Short-handed Vols

Short-handed Vols

January 6th, 2010 by Wes Rucker in Sports - College

KNOXVILLE -- Bobby Maze has seen it happen before.

The University of Tennessee's senior point guard has seen teams rotate just seven players and compete -- and occasionally beat -- the Volunteers.

It's not ideal, but it's not impossible, Maze said.

"The teams that we play against are usually guys that are playing 35, 36 minutes a game anyways, so I think now with our guys having to play that many minutes, they'll step up," he said. "Knowing what we have to do in order to win a basketball game, I think we'll have a good chance to win."

That's a crucial fact for the Vols to remind themselves -- at least for tonight's game against Charlotte, and possibly for much longer.

Sixteenth-ranked UT (10-2) will host the 49ers (10-3) tonight at 7:30, and the Vols will do so without five scholarship players from the preseason roster. Sophomore forward Emanuel Negedu's offseason heart problems combined the Friday's arrest of four players has at least temporarily left UT with a main rotation of six scholarship players and preferred walk-on guard Skylar McBee.

Coach Bruce Pearl said he will use a nine-man rotation tonight, including walk-ons Josh Bone and Steven Pearl, but the Vols will most heavily lean on McBee and the six active scholarship players.

"As it relates to the task at hand, it's formidable," Pearl said. "We still have players that have abilities and that have dimensions to their game that we can use, and this team has got a lot of fight in it, but I don't know how good this team is right now. With six scholarship players and three walk-ons in our top nine, I don't know how good we are right now. I know how good we are in practice, and I'll learn a lot about this group on Wednesday night.

"And then, of course, we'll be facing the challenges ahead."

The immediate challenge ahead is a Sunday afternoon home game with top-ranked, undefeated Kansas.

That can wait, though. Charlotte, which beat Georgia Tech last week and hammered Louisville by 22 earlier this season, has had UT's full attention for days.

Charlotte has suffered some stinkers, too -- a 101-59 loss at Duke, and an 81-48 setback at Old Dominion -- but the 49ers have proven more than capable of topping a team like full-strength UT, much less this patchwork version of the Vols.

"As far as only playing eight or nine guys, that's going to be tough on our team," said sophomore guard Scotty Hopson, who has been asked to shoulder much more of the scoring load. "But it's definitely a lot of opportunity, especially with the younger guys. Getting more minutes is definitely going to be an opportunity for them.

"Even myself, this is a chance for me to step up and lead this team like people have been wanting me to do."

Pearl said the "absolutely the easiest part" of his job the past few days has been convincing the players on his active roster that they're good enough to win at a high level. He has tried to motivate them with stories of his former Southern Indiana team, which went to Northern Kentucky late in the season and secured a conference championship despite missing four suspended starters.

"They're excited about the opportunity to play," Pearl said. "They understand the challenges. They know we have to step up in a big way, and that's what they're intent upon."

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