My eyes see a better Tennessee women's basketball team this fall: deeper, bigger, more athletic and with more backcourt options.
My ears, on the other hand, aren't convinced. They're detecting communication lapses, silent stretches at practice and coaches regularly urging players to talk, as was the case during Saturday's scrimmage against the male practice players.
This battle of the senses isn't confined to my little world. The Lady Vols are well aware of the disparity, too. They can see and hear for themselves.
"We pretty much know when the gym's getting kind of quiet; we need to talk more,'' junior forward Alicia Manning said. "And then we have to adjust. It shouldn't really get to that point, but it does."
Manning is among the nine Lady Vols who are either juniors or seniors. Two of the juniors - Kelley Cain and Vicki Baugh - have an added redshirt season's worth of experience. Collectively this group has reached a crossroad in its competitive maturation. They readily acknowledge the importance of communication. Yet their actions still indicate a lack of appreciation for its real worth.
Tennessee assistant coach Dean Lockwood defined the undertaking as sharing information, relaying adjustments from the bench and challenging each other when necessary. Much of this occurs during the course of a game, which puts more responsibility on the players. He characterized their chatter as an acquired skill that comes with greater awareness and maturity.
"It's something that is often overlooked by teams that haven't quite done what they want to do yet,'' he said. "So they don't always see the value in it."
The Lady Vols won 32 games last season along with SEC regular-season and tournament championships. Their sense of accomplishment, though, was diminished by an NCAA tournament Sweet 16 flameout against Baylor. The Lady Vols clearly had something more in mind.
Since then, they've concluded that more volume would help their cause.
"It's gotten better but we still have a lot of room for improvement,'' Manning said of the team's communication skills. "I think it's going to be a pretty important factor."
The ongoing lapses reflect some prevailing circumstances. For instance, the point guard position usually is one of the most consistent sources of useful sound bites. But starter Shekinna Stricklen is quiet by nature. Fellow junior Briana Bass has improved significantly in this regard but hasn't claimed a backup spot. And freshman Lauren Avant is learning on the job.
Health issues also have clouded the picture. Sophomore Taber Spani knows from experience after being limited last season with a case of turf toe on her left foot.
"At times, I'd practice a whole practice on the outside of my foot,'' she said. "By SEC play, it really got bad."
Hard to be heard over such pain.
"Obviously everybody is a part of the team, whether they're on the court or not,'' Spani said. "(But) it's so much easier, so much more natural when you're on the court to have a voice."
Baugh and Cain have multiple knee surgeries on their medical charts. Baugh has missed most of the past two seasons.
Despite budgeting their practice minutes with the long haul in mind, both players have been on the court consistently during the preseason. At this point, UT coach Pat Summitt said that she's inclined to start both players. A consistent presence might coax them into having the floor more often.
"Me and Angie, (Bjorklund) we say things all the time, whatever comes to our head basically,'' Manning said. "Whatever (Baugh and Cain) say, it needs to be said. If they're speaking up we, for sure, need to get it together."
As the Lady Vols troubleshoot their lines of communication, the most delicate part of the process involves any rerouting through their personalities. Someone might not be talkative. Someone else could be worried about hurting someone's feelings. After four days off, last Monday's practice sputtered for traction at the outset and cried out for anyone to gather the group and say: Let's go.
They have to find a way to handle these situations. Manning summed it up in a simple mandate: "We should figure it out."
Without saying much, she said an earful.
"The walk has to match the talk,'' Lockwood said. "Because we're saying all the right things and I really believe they do want it but now our actions have to reflect it.
"If you want to be good and you know this helps you, the thing is they have to embrace it. It's time-tested."
Dan Fleser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.