Pearl not sure if Vols are really better
Posted: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 5:08 pm
By: By BETH RUCKER, Associated Press Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — The Tennessee Vols are rebounding better, have more depth and have improved point guard play this season compared to last.
That doesn’t mean they’re a better team than the squad that won the Southeastern Conference championship and was ranked No. 1 at a point last season.
“We played very well last year in our opener against Temple. We did a lot of good things to start our season,” Pearl said Monday. “Looking back at that Temple game and many of our early season contests, I’m just reminded that we were much further ahead a year ago than we are now.”
The Vols, who jumped two spots in The Associated Press Top 25 to No. 8, travel to Philadelphia to face Temple again on Saturday.
Tennessee beat the Owls 80-63 in Knoxville last season.
Coming off a big win over No. 19 Georgetown and a loss to No. 4 Gonzaga at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla., Pearl said his young team is still struggling with their full-court pressure defense that is the hallmark of his teams’ play.
Averaging 87.1 points per game, Tennessee is ranked top in the SEC in scoring offense.
But the Vols have the league’s worst scoring defense with opponents scoring an average 71.3 points.
They’re averaging only 7.4 steals per game, good for seventh in the SEC.
“When you’re not stealing the basketball, you’re not creating any offense out of your defense which puts even more pressure on your offense with a lot of new people,” Pearl said.
Tennessee’s understanding of the pressure defense is “light years from where we need to be” but will only come with more experience on the floor, Pearl said.
“We’ll try to simulate a lot of the things in practice this week, but there’s going to be some more exposure,” he said.
The Vols should get plenty of that with the trip to Temple, a meeting with No. 24 Marquette in the SEC/Big East Invitational and a home game against Belmont in the next two weeks. All three teams competed in the NCAA Tournament last season.
Because of the players’ exam period stretching through last week and this week, the team will have had more than a week to prepare for the upcoming games by the time they arrive in Philadelphia later this week.
Coaches have run the players through intense conditioning practices to give their brains — though not their bodies — a rest while studying for their tests.
As they wrap up their studies, Pearl will ratchet up competition among some of the players during practice to identify the best defensive players — something that could result in a tweak of the starting lineup in the coming games.
Pearl said he’ll take advantage of the team’s trip to Philadelphia to see a few historical sights while in town.
We’re going to go over there and see a few things Thursday afternoon … might even get a cheesesteak,” he said.