Bruce Pearl wants his team to be dominant at home and win at least half of its Southeastern Conference road games.
Tennessee has done just that so far, beating Alabama on the road and losing at Georgia. That doesn’t mean the Volunteers coach is satisfied.
“It’s more about the quality of play. The Georgia game was troubling because they really dominated us,” Pearl said. “I don’t feel great about just splitting (road games) because of the way we were playing.”
There’s not a lot to make feel Pearl better, either. The 14th-ranked Vols (15-3, 3-1) must correct problems on both ends of the court as they prepare to host No. 21 Vanderbilt, one of the hottest teams in the SEC.
And Tennessee could be facing the Commodores (15-3, 4-0) on Wednesday with star Wayne Chism playing at less than 100 percent.
The senior center sprained and hyperextended his knee in the 78-63 loss to Georgia on Saturday. Since returning to Knoxville, Chism has spent all of his free time with athletic trainer Chad Newman, and Pearl said he wouldn’t practice on Monday.
Tennessee’s opponents have relied on zone defense to try to prevent the Vols from getting the ball inside to Chism. It’s worked, too. The Vols have shot 39 percent in the past three games, down from their 47.3 percent average for the whole season.
Pearl expects the Commodores to use zone to disrupt Tennessee and said his team could benefit from better 3-point shooting. Only guard Scotty Hopson has made a 3-point basket in the past two games.
“We’re going to have to shoot it better as a team and mix up outside scoring with some of the things we do inside,” Pearl said.
Chism was still able to do just enough against Auburn, Mississippi and Alabama to help Tennessee win. In those three games, he averaged 16.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and made all 18 of his free throw attempts.
But in the loss to Georgia, he scored only six points, grabbed six rebounds and failed to make it to the free-throw line.
Chism has also had some of his best games in the past two seasons against the Commodores and their center, junior A.J. Ogilvy.
“It’s a very important matchup with (Chism) and Ogilvy,” Pearl said. “But this year, Vanderbilt’s so much more balanced than what they’ve been in the past. This is the deepest Vanderbilt team I’ve seen, most talented Vanderbilt team I’ve seen.”
Ogilvy is excited for the opportunity. Vanderbilt is off to its best SEC start since the 1965-66 season, when the team started 5-0 and had two wins over Tennessee.
“We haven’t played well in Knoxville the past few years,” he said. “Last year, our youth was something we couldn’t overcome. These guys are a year older and getting experience under our belt.”