Having played Wednesday night's game vs. Charlotte without four suspended players, the Big Orange should have learned some things that will help when the top-ranked Jayhawks roll into Knoxville for Sunday's 4:30 tipoff.
Asked what the short-handed Vols accomplished vs. the 49ers that might prove beneficial vs. Kansas, head coach Bruce Pearl replied: "We beat a potential NCAA Tournament team, so that was an important win. We gained some confidence. But now what do we do with that confidence? It's all about where we go from here."
There were numerous encouraging developments in Wednesday's 88-71 victory. With Tyler Smith, Brian Williams, Cameron Tatum and Melvin Goins unavailable for duty, several teammates picked up the slack in their absence.
- Senior post Wayne Chism stepped up his play considerably, leading the Vols in points (18), assists (6), steals (5) and blocks (3).
- Scotty Hopson hit 7 of 10 shots, including 3 of 5 from 3, finishing with 17 points and 3 assists.
- Renaldo Woolridge contributed 10 points, a team-high 7 rebounds and a block in his first start of the season.
- Freshman Kenny Hall filled in quite capably for Williams by making 5 of 6 shots en route to 12 points.
- Bobby Maze played one of his better games, contributing 13 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and just one turnover in 30 minutes at the point.
- J.P. Prince chipped in 10 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds.
- Freshman Skylar McBee hit a couple of clutch 3-pointers to help Tennessee withstand Charlotte's second-half rally.
- Walk-on Josh Bone, filling Goins' role as the backup point guard, played 13 minutes without a turnover.
"We learned that some of those guys have the ability to step up," Pearl noted. "Can they continue to step up? Is there a ceiling? Can they do that again or can they do more without dropping back? There's no room to drop back against the rest of our schedule."
Perhaps the greatest benefit of the Charlotte game is that the Vols learned they can win with just six scholarship players suited up. Pearl isn't taking a whole lot of comfort in that, however. He'd like to have some of his suspended players - if not all - back in uniform by Sunday.
"I would not prefer a shorter bench," he said.