Although he prefers an eight- or nine-man rotation, Pearl said in preseason that he might go with a 10-man rotation this winter because of superior depth. As January approaches, however, 11 guys are still getting significant playing time.
"There hasn't been enough consistency of play that would warrant paring the rotation down (to nine or 10)," Pearl said. "I do think we'd play better if we could get to there."
Obviously, having 11 able bodies is a plus when your strategy is built around exhausting your opponent with a fast pace and a long bench. But trying to establish cohesion on offense is difficult when the lineup is changing every couple of minutes.
"I'd like to get down to our normal rotation of nine," Pearl said. "I'd be comfortable at 10. But the way that gets whittled down is you have eight or nine guys that really start to play with consistency and play well. They say, 'Hey, I need more time. I need to be on the floor more.' Then the rotation goes accordingly."
Pearl seemed to have settled on his top nine a few weeks ago - starters Wayne Chism, Tyler Smith, Cameron Tatum, Scotty Hopson and Bobby Maze, plus reserves J.P. Prince, Brian Williams, Skylar McBee and Melvin Goins. Sophomore Renaldo Woolridge and freshman Kenny Hall have rallied, however, and perhaps played their way back into the rotation.
Woolridge provided 9 points, 8 rebounds and an emotional lift in 17 quality minutes vs. North Carolina A&T last Wednesday. Hall contributed 16 points, 4 rebounds and a block in 13 impressive minutes the same night.
"A perfect example of why it's difficult to get down to nine would be the play of Kenny Hall or Renaldo Woolridge," Pearl said. "Those guys were sort of 10 or 11 (in terms of minutes) but they both played really well against A&T."
Hall, a 6-9, 220-pound post, is shooting 60 percent from the floor. He does a better job of running the floor and finishing around the rim than Williams, a 6-10, 276-pound junior. Williams is the team's best rebounder, however, averaging 5.2 per game in just 16 minutes.
The 6-9, 210-pound Woolridge is unlikely to cut into All-America power forward Tyler Smith's minutes but he could take some minutes from J.P. Prince, who backs up Tatum at small forward. There's a catch, though.
"J.P. Prince has played very well the last three games," Pearl said. "He's a guy that, whether he's starting or coming off the bench, you need on the floor more."
In order to increase the playing time of Woolridge AND Prince, Pearl must cut into Tatum's ... or give Tatum some playing time at shooting guard and reduce Hopson's and/or McBee's minutes.
Clearly, the situation is quite complicated. Still, Pearl is hopeful it will work itself out now that the Vols are facing a higher level of competition, starting Thursday night at Memphis.
"Every opponent we play now is either as good or better than us ... EVERY one," Pearl said. "So, what will happen in the rotation is this: Every player will be challenged, so how each player responds will determine what the rotations are.
"Will Skylar McBee be able to shoot the ball against Memphis like he did against North Carolina A&T? How will the 3 position with J.P. and Cameron play itself out when they're going up against (Memphis') Elliot Williams? How will the point-guard position play itself out going up against (Memphis') Willie Kemp? What will happen on the inside?
"When each player is challenged more, that's when your best players will surface. So my guess is the rotation will get cut sometime after these next couple of games."