The Big Orange (2-0) opens its four-day adventure at 3:30 EST this afternoon, facing East Carolina (1-2) in Round 1 of the Paradise Jam tournament at St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. Tennessee might not have the most talent of any team in the tourney but the Vols surely have the most depth. They feature an 11-man rotation, and the backups aren't that far behind the starters. In a tournament situation such as this, that's an incredible plus.
"The good news is we've got depth," head coach Bruce Pearl said earlier this week. "The bad news is everybody has got to play unselfishly and everybody's got to cut back on some minutes and some shots in order for us to take advantage of what our strength is.
"Our depth is good. That's one of our strengths. Depth can help you in a game, it can help you in a tournament and it can help you in a season."
Tennessee would be even deeper except that sophomore post Emmanuel Negedu is sitting out this season due to a heart condition that could end his playing career. His unavailability leaves UT with just 10 scholarship players. All 10 can play, however, as can sharp-shooting freshman walk-on Skylar McBee.
"Our roster is not very deep," Pearl said, "but our team is deep because all of the guys that are dressing on scholarship are playing."
After two lopsided exhibition wins and two lopsided regular-season wins, McBee has seen first-hand how valuable Tennessee's depth can be.
"I think that's going to be an advantage," he said. "The whole season I think that's going to be an advantage. We've got 10 guys we're rotating in. Coach Pearl talks about how you can work yourself into exhaustion, then get that guy that's sitting on the bench in. That's what we're going to do; we're going to wear teams out. Hopefully, our best 10 will be better than their best 10."
Winning this tournament would be a nice accomplishment for the Vols, who are ranked No. 10 nationally at present.
"This is the best Paradise Jam they've put together," Pearl said. "In the field you've got four teams that were in the top 75 in RPI last year - Purdue, Boston College, Northern Iowa and Tennessee. Those same four teams were in the NCAA Tournament. Northern Iowa is picked to win their league and Purdue is a top-10 program. And there are some other very good teams in the tournament, as well ... St. Joe and DePaul. It's a great field."
Although the Virgin Islands is a vacation haven, Pearl said his team won't do a lot of sight-seeing.
"It's about becoming a better basketball team," he said. "We'll certainly see some of the beauty of the Virgin Islands but this is not a vacation. This is a work in progress.
"We get to see a really pretty part of the world but our guys won't be on the beach very often. We've got three games in four days. We're going there for the basketball. The location is for television and the fans."