Vol men miscues must be minimal
Posted: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 5:33 pm
By: By BETH RUCKER, Associated Press Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — Tennessee’s rotation of six scholarship players and three walk-ons showed it can beat any team in the nation with the upset of previously top-ranked Kansas.
Now, the Volunteers must show they can maintain their intensity through the Southeastern Conference season.
“The margin of error for us is very small,” coach Bruce Pearl said. “We withstood foul trouble (against Kansas), but there’s not much margin for foul trouble or injury at this point.”
With a bench shortened by the dismissal of Tyler Smith, the indefinite suspensions of three players and preseason losses of two other players, all the Vols (12-2) are playing more minutes than they’re accustomed to.
Tennessee overcame their absence in a 76-68 win over the Jayhawks on Sunday, even though the two most experienced Vols, Wayne Chism and J.P. Prince, were on the bench for more than half of the game because of foul trouble.
Still, Pearl knows he can’t afford to lose any more players if Tennessee, which jumped seven spots to No. 9, wants to survive the SEC. So he’s made some adjustments to his new team.
The first thing the coach did was eliminate most of his trademark pressure defense and add a zone defense for one of the first times in his career to preserve his players’ energy.
Then he changed practice a bit.
He normally has his team work at the end of practices to come up with four solid stops against the scout team.
Sometimes the Vols would go an extra 45 minutes to an hour to get that fourth stopped.
That drill is gone, and there’s only one full-contact scrimmage practice a week.
He’s still making his players sprint quite a bit so that they’re in condition to play up to 35 minutes a game if needed.
“More preparation thr-ough film, less preparation through doing,” Pearl said.
For now guard Cameron Tatum, point guard Melvin Goins and center Brian Williams remain indefinitely suspended for their Jan. 1 arrest on misdemeanor drug, gun and alcohol charges — the same incident for which Smith was dismissed.
Pearl said he’s waiting on updates in the trio’s court cases, which could come at a scheduled hearing on Thursday.
Pearl is also awaiting on a ruling by the university’s judicial affairs committee on the players’ academic status before making any decisions about their basketball futures.
Their teammates would be happy to welcome them back, though.
“Whatever happened,” freshman guard Skylar McBee said. “People make mistakes. They’re going to come back, and it’s going to be the same.”
They won’t be back before Tennessee hosts Auburn on Thursday, so Pearl is doing his best to make sure his nine-man rotation doesn’t fall apart against the Tigers.
The Vols lost the last time they came off a big win at the end of the 2008-09 regular season. They grabbed wins at South Carolina and Florida to clinch the SEC East Division title only to come home and be upset by Alabama in the final game of the season.
Tennessee also followed up its last win over the No. 1 team — a victory against Memphis on Feb. 23, 2008 — with a letdown loss to Vanderbilt.
In hopes of avoiding another disappointment, the first thing Pearl planned for Monday’s practice was a viewing of last year’s game at Auburn — a game which the Tigers controlled and won 78-77.
“We got whooped, and our guys will hear about that,” Pearl said.
The message may already be getting through, though.
“I don’t think the Kansas win means as much if Auburn comes in and beats us Thursday,” McBee said. “We definitely have to get back to work and keep this same mentality that we have to stay together and be a family and work as hard as possible.”