John Adams: Vols' production lagging well behind image

John Adams
Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl reacts to a foul called on the Vols as they play the Florida Gators during the second round of the SEC Tournament at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga., Friday, March 11, 2011.  Tennessee fouled 28 times while Florida racked up 16 during their 85-74 loss.

Photo by Adam Brimer

Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl reacts to a foul called on the Vols as they play the Florida Gators during the second round of the SEC Tournament at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga., Friday, March 11, 2011. Tennessee fouled 28 times while Florida racked up 16 during their 85-74 loss.

Sports images sometimes last longer than truth should allow.

For example, take last year's first round of the NCAA men's basketball tournament. The San Diego State scouting report for Tennessee was outdated by at least a year.

One Aztec after another raved about the Vols' full-court defensive pressure. Even coach Steve Fisher chimed in on the hardships it would impose in their tournament opener in Providence, R.I.

They might as well have been hailing the 3-point shooting of Chris Lofton.

Lofton, who starred on coach Bruce Pearl's first UT team, was long gone by last year's NCAA tournament. So was UT's full-court game.

But the image endured.

Not even the image has survived this season. As UT ventures into NCAA tournament play against Michigan on Friday, it's now lumped together with the great majority of college basketball teams whose offensive and defensive success are usually determined by tedious half-court skirmishes. Full-court pressure and momentum-turning transition baskets have been reduced to fond memories for the fans who embraced Pearl's brand of basketball when he arrived in Knoxville in 2005.

And the coach intends on doing something about it next season, provided there is a next season. If Pearl still has his job after the NCAA reaches a final verdict on UT's rules violations, he likely will bring back the same full-court system he implemented in 2005.

Never mind that the Vols advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament last season or that Pearl seems comfortable in half-court games. He said he would be more comfortable with the old system, the one he first learned under coach Tom Davis as a student assistant at Boston College. He discussed his reasons for changing as he waited for the announcement of the NCAA tournament field Sunday.

Pearl questioned whether his team could win a national championship by relying so heavily on a full-court defense. A 79-60 loss to Louisville in the Sweet 16 of the 2008 NCAA tournament helped shape his thinking. Circumventing the press often was child's play for the quick, athletic Cardinals.

Recruiting played a role, too. Pearl has been able to recruit a better quality of player at UT than he could in his lower-profile days at Southern Indiana and UW-Milwaukee. But the best players he signed weren't always the best fit for his system. So he made concessions.

"I wanted to put my personnel in the best system for them to be successful," he said.

One irony of the Pearl era is that his sixth team at UT isn't nearly as well suited for his full-court game as the Buzz Peterson leftovers he coached in his first season with the Vols. His next team - if there is "his next team" - might be more like Pearl's UT original. That means smaller and quicker.

My guess is fans will welcome the change. This team is no fun to watch. And its lack of appeal is impacted, in part, by its style of play. It either wins ugly or loses uglier.

In the last 20 years of SEC basketball, probably the three most entertaining teams were Arkansas under Nolan Richardson, Kentucky under Rick Pitino and UT's first teams under Pearl. All relied on a full-court game.

The Vols didn't win as much as the Razorbacks or the Wildcats but won enough to revive a long-suffering fan base. Despite qualifying for six consecutive NCAA tournaments, UT's program no longer engenders the same excitement.

Regardless of their system, the Vols aren't likely to outrecruit college basketball's elite programs. That doesn't mean they can't beat them - with a different style of play.

Tennessee won three of four games against Florida's back-to-back national championship teams with its fast, full-court game in 2006 and 2007. Playing the same way in the 2007 tournament, it lost to No. 1-ranked Ohio State by one point.

Those UT teams looked better losing than this one does winning.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http//:twitter.com/johnadamskns.

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Comments » 15

TNVOLFN writes:

Just win, baby, win!!!

VolunteerLifer writes:

One of the big reasons this team is no fun to watch is because no one knows how to pass the ball for an assist. Passing on the fast break is terrible. Passing in the half court offense has been mundane at best. Almost never does this team produce a scintillating pass.

tulelakevol writes:

This team needs a point guard to step up and play ball.

BigVolFaninSC writes:

You missed it again Adams! This team was very fun to watch when they beat Nova, Pitt and even the blowout against Memphis! Those wins got our hopes up for a great season, but the 3 point shooting has tanked this team! Also, this team lacks a CONSISTENT third scorer to help Scotty and Tobias! When they GET that third scorer (usually Tatum or Goins) they are tough to beat! Most teams try to peak at tourney time! THIS team peaked before SEC play! We need a big center that can score!

TruVol writes:

Wow! What a down and out article that was. Must of been a bad day for the old sports writer. If you read the article with Eeyore's voice as the narrator then it makes it more entertaining.

VOLKING writes:

Old doom and gloom at it again. Remember, Pearl's teams always play best when no one believes in them. It would be a stretch, but they have proven they can play with anybody when they are on. Problem is....they haven't been on in a long time.

OMike writes:

in response to VolunteerLifer:

One of the big reasons this team is no fun to watch is because no one knows how to pass the ball for an assist. Passing on the fast break is terrible. Passing in the half court offense has been mundane at best. Almost never does this team produce a scintillating pass.

Passing without a post up game is hard to do. I think Melvin has gotten undeserved bashing from the talk shows and boards. The win against Vandy in Nashville was all due to Melvins hustle, and I never heard it mentioned. I see what your saying VL, but we always pick a guy out. Bottom line no pure shooters, no post up game, Tatum in horrible slump. Everyone trying to dissect what ails this team, I believe it's as simple as that. Have to agree fast break passing has been dismal this season.

IrritatedVol writes:

Ooooh, John - it's hard to believe you continue to do your job & write a thought provoking analysis of what is, yes, the actual truth about the Vols. Considering how many ignorant Vol "fans" seem to blame you for virtually everything wrong in the world, I don't know why you ever have anything positive to ever say about Knoxville or UT. But you still grind away and write good articles. I've been reading your columns and the KNS for many years, & I've really grown to appreciate your viewpoints. Boy, tho, after reading this one, I gotta say, you must surely know you're going to take a verbal beating from the masses who seem to think that because your job is in Knoxville, & frankly I can't think of any other logical reasons, but that you are somehow obligated to write nothing but cheerleading, rah rah articles about UT. Oh yeah, there's one now: VOLKING writes, "Old doom and gloom at it again." LOL! I guess if UT went 1-29 & you wrote the very obvious fact that perhaps more might be expected out of the team, you'd still get nailed to the wall by these idiots. Um, VOLKING & all of the rest of you UT "fans" who expect cotton candy and roses coming from 100% glowing articles about UT, we did go 12-14 down the stretch. Losing record gang. We did lose to 10-20 Charlotte, while also losing to teeny little schools 99% of the country have never heard of, like Oakland (did not know they weren't from California) & Belmont. College of Charleston was a fun loss too, if I recall correctly.

UT doesn't deserve to be in the NCAAs. Our record sucks, we finished next to last in our division, we repeatedly lost game after game to patsies, we beat #7 Villanova, a team that proved to be like Tennessee and went on to lose more than 10 games too. (Um, Knoxville - top 10 teams don't do that. They know that at Duke, UCLA, Kentucky.) Yeah, Adams, get ready for the idiots to take shots at you, when in fact, they should be aiming straight at the Big Orange. Pity you have to take smack for eloquently stating the obvious. As for me, I'll keep looking forward to reading your columns, & force myself to watch UT likely play a decent game against Michigan - until the last 5 minutes, when UT will pretty much do what they've done in nearly every game this season and forget the term "defense" & forget that you need to play 40 minutes, not just 35, & will predictably lose very stupidly, as the team's basketball IQ is clearly lower than that of pumpkin.

Man, do I miss the Chris Loften days! Ditto Wayne Chism. Shoot, even JP Prince! Wow, I'd still go for ole Dyron Nix (remember him?) over this group of players. I'm just praying Tobias Harris will somehow be convinced to stay another year to perhaps give us a chance at a decent season next year.

westennvol writes:

I rarely agree with Adams, but in this case I think he is correct. This UT team isn't (no fun to watch) but at times is hard to watch. I personally loved the fast-paced teams of the early Pearl-era at UT. I would like to see it brought back if he remains coach next year.

easleychuck writes:

I understand what he means by "style of play". I just wish in this case, for this team, that style of play was playing hard on defense.

I can understand that with Williams in the game that they may not have the footspeed to press. But this team does not even apply the pressure to teams when they are inbounding in the half-court. Whenever UT was playing under Pearl (as recent as last year) the announcers would rattle off the stat about how many turnovers or timeouts that they had caused their opponents to make or take.

That seems like a distant memory. Similar to the distant memory that our coach was somehow a gem who stood for all that was right in college basketball. Sad.

cloudodust writes:

Pearl should be retained. He should be given an opportunity to redeem himself. Would I feel differently if he missed the NCAA's on a yearly basis..? Yep. At least I'm honest, no lie...Now, back to the BBQ.

rockyspringstn1volfan writes:

in response to TennVolAlum:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

right on!!!

teedub writes:

Awesome article. It's true...this team is not fun watch. I would almost (I said almost) rather watch a Lofton/Bradshaw team lose than watch this current team win.

kyletrktr writes:

in response to IrritatedVol:

Ooooh, John - it's hard to believe you continue to do your job & write a thought provoking analysis of what is, yes, the actual truth about the Vols. Considering how many ignorant Vol "fans" seem to blame you for virtually everything wrong in the world, I don't know why you ever have anything positive to ever say about Knoxville or UT. But you still grind away and write good articles. I've been reading your columns and the KNS for many years, & I've really grown to appreciate your viewpoints. Boy, tho, after reading this one, I gotta say, you must surely know you're going to take a verbal beating from the masses who seem to think that because your job is in Knoxville, & frankly I can't think of any other logical reasons, but that you are somehow obligated to write nothing but cheerleading, rah rah articles about UT. Oh yeah, there's one now: VOLKING writes, "Old doom and gloom at it again." LOL! I guess if UT went 1-29 & you wrote the very obvious fact that perhaps more might be expected out of the team, you'd still get nailed to the wall by these idiots. Um, VOLKING & all of the rest of you UT "fans" who expect cotton candy and roses coming from 100% glowing articles about UT, we did go 12-14 down the stretch. Losing record gang. We did lose to 10-20 Charlotte, while also losing to teeny little schools 99% of the country have never heard of, like Oakland (did not know they weren't from California) & Belmont. College of Charleston was a fun loss too, if I recall correctly.

UT doesn't deserve to be in the NCAAs. Our record sucks, we finished next to last in our division, we repeatedly lost game after game to patsies, we beat #7 Villanova, a team that proved to be like Tennessee and went on to lose more than 10 games too. (Um, Knoxville - top 10 teams don't do that. They know that at Duke, UCLA, Kentucky.) Yeah, Adams, get ready for the idiots to take shots at you, when in fact, they should be aiming straight at the Big Orange. Pity you have to take smack for eloquently stating the obvious. As for me, I'll keep looking forward to reading your columns, & force myself to watch UT likely play a decent game against Michigan - until the last 5 minutes, when UT will pretty much do what they've done in nearly every game this season and forget the term "defense" & forget that you need to play 40 minutes, not just 35, & will predictably lose very stupidly, as the team's basketball IQ is clearly lower than that of pumpkin.

Man, do I miss the Chris Loften days! Ditto Wayne Chism. Shoot, even JP Prince! Wow, I'd still go for ole Dyron Nix (remember him?) over this group of players. I'm just praying Tobias Harris will somehow be convinced to stay another year to perhaps give us a chance at a decent season next year.

you forgot to mention that we finished 5th in a division that sent 5 teams to the tourney. You also forgot to mention that we dominated a #1 seed in Pittsburgh. Did i mention we played florida well twice, taking them into overtime once. We also beat vandy twice, who ended ahead of us, and georgia, who also ended ahead of us in the final eastern division standings. That being said, i do agree with you on missing the old tennessee squad. Chism was my favorite, with Lofton a close second. I hope pearl brings back the full court, fast paced team we used to see, they were fun to watch.

BigOrangeSmoker writes:

in response to TennVolAlum:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I second that adams is a poor excuse of a reporter unless he's talking about his little buddy lame kiffin ferpetesake

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