Turnover time

Turnover time

The most encouraging aspect of Wednesday's Tennessee basketball practice was that the Vols forced a lot of turnovers. That was also the most discouraging aspect of Wednesday's practice.

Although this squad seemingly has more size than speed, the Big Orange was pressing fullcourt and forcing mistake after mistake at Pratt Pavilion. From a defensive perspective, head coach Bruce Pearl was thrilled. From an offensive perspective, however, he was appalled.

"One of the things that concerns me offensively is our ability to handle ball pressure," he said following a 2-hour and 45-minute workout. When we're getting after ourselves, we're turning the ball over too much. The scouting report is to get into our kitchen, put a little pressure on us and we'll cough it up. We've got to get tougher, we've got to get stronger with the ball.

"Defensively, our effort is good and I think we're forcing turnovers. But, offensively, we've got to do a better job of taking care of the basketball."

Asked if the turnovers were primarily made by point guards, Pearl shook his head.

"Overall, as a team," he said. "We let a lot of different guys handle the ball."

This supposedly is the biggest and slowest team of the Pearl era, yet the Vols looked pretty good pressing fullcourt throughout Wednesday's practice.

"The key in pressure is transition and making certain opponents go faster," the coach said. "It's a great weapon to have."

How much the Vols press this winter will depend in large part on which five guys comprise the starting lineup. After two weeks of preseason drills, Pearl thinks he's getting an inkling of who those five will be.

"I'm getting closer to putting a lineup out there," he said. "Maybe later this week I'm going to begin putting my best players out there together and let them start to jell a little bit. That doesn't mean that couldn't change but I think we're getting closer to being able to evaluate where we're at and making some decisions as far as who might start."

The coach has carefully avoided putting what he believes to be his five best on the floor simultaneously this preseason.

"I've not put the five guys together yet," he said. "I don't think there's been a practice where those five guys have been on the same team because I'm still trying to teach and still trying to give them all a chance to compete. But we're getting closer to a time when I've got to put them together and let them see if they can hold on to their positions."

Pearl stopped practice several times on Wednesday to bemoan the lack of "a sense of urgency" on the part of his players. Afterward, however, he suggested that the pace and energy levels were pretty good.

"This was the second day we've pressed, so the tempo was up," he said. "I think we can learn from practice. When you press, you force the tempo of practice."

Determined to put his five best players on the floor, Pearl is working several Vols at multiple positions. This solves some problems but creates some others.

"Some guys are playing two positions, and that's tough because they do two completely different things," he said. "While playing two positions gives me the flexibility in injury or foul trouble to evaluate them and gives them twice as many chances to play, it hurts them if they don't know what to do and where to go.

"I can't call timeout every play and draw it up for them. I've got to call it and they've got to execute it. Some guys are getting it and some guys aren't."

Surprisingly enough, some of the guys that aren't "getting it" are veterans. And some of the guys who are getting it are rookies.

"The freshmen," Pearl said, "are probably on the same pace picking things up as the returning guys."

NOTES: Brian Williams, Tennessee's 6-10, 270-pound senior center, suffered an injury to his right ankle when he collided with 6-9, 225-pound Kenny Hall late in the workout. The extent of Williams' injury is not known.... Bobby Maze, Tennessee's starting point guard the past two seasons, challenged his old teammates while representing the practice squad during Wednesday's workout.

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