Tennessee Basketball: Why Suspend Pearl Now, and Who Will Step Up on the Court?

Brett ParisiContributor INovember 22, 2010

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 20:  Coach Bruce Pearl of the Tennessee Volunteers reacts against the Ohio Bobcats during the second round of the 2010 NCAA men's tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 20, 2010 in Providence, Rhode Island. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

SEC commish Mike Slive must have gotten bored with the Cam-Gate Saga, because he brought down the hammer on Tennessee head basketball coach Bruce Pearl last Friday.

Pearl was suspended by the commissioner for the first eight SEC games of the season, including two key games against Florida and Vanderbilt.

Associate head coach and member of Pearl's coaching staff for nine years Tony Jones will take over for those eight games, and is very capable of stepping in for Pearl in the role.

Other than the obvious loss of charisma from the sidelines, the Vols will really miss Pearl's ability to draw-up plays coming out of time outs, a skill that Vol fans got the privilege to see on Tennessee's run to the Elite Eight last season.

Now, I do understand why Mike Slive could have acted at such an interesting time. First, and least likely, he could be trying to save one of the better coaches in his conference from more embarrassment by punishing him before the NCAA gets a hold of him. The NCAA is not likely to send out their list of allegations until December, and even then we are not likely to see any sort of punishment from the NCAA until after this season.

Second, and slightly more likely, Slive could be trying to reassert the SEC's authority over its constituents to try and counter some of the heat that the SEC has taken on the handling of the Cam Newton saga.

How the team lets this affect them is paramount for their success, not only during those eight games without their leader, but the all the games leading up to that.

One thing the Baller Vols have lacked so far this young season is a true, vocal, clear leader. Not just a guy that can lead by his actions on the court, but a guy who can lead by his actions in the huddle, off the court and in the practice facility.

Last season, there was no shortage of leaders on the court. Three seniors split those duties extremely capably: Wayne Chism, J.P. Prince and Bobby Maze.

Now that they have moved on, most of them to the NBA Development League, the Vols have to find at least one guy to fit into those size 14 Adidas.


Leading Candidates


Scotty Hopson

Hopson has struggled with consistency on the court, which is detrimental to his leadership ability, because the No. 1 thing you want in a leader is consistency, but he has gotten much more consistent as of late.

He has gotten leaps and bounds better at his mid-range game, sinking high arcing shots from 15 feet with ease against Missouri State last week.

The bottom line is, Hopson will have to improve his ball-handling and stop turning the ball over as much, not to mention just improve his game in the late minutes of the game, to step into a more prominent role.


Tobias Harris

Harris looks like he will be Tennessee's best threat at scoring, leading the team through three games with 16.3 points per game, but as a freshman, it is very tough for someone to step up and take control of a team.

We have still yet to see any games that have needed a last second shot to win, but with the way that Harris has driven to the basket and scored so consistently, it's hard to think that Bruce Pearl (or Tony Jones) wouldn't want the ball in his hands with the game on the line.

Harris is mature for a freshman, but it is a lot to put on an 18-year-old to put a team on his back on his first year in college.


Cam Tatum

The biggest thing for Cam is health. He has shown that he can score consistently, and hit some big threes when it counts, but his health issues have kept him from reaching his full potential. I think killaCam can be the guy, he just has to stay healthy for an entire season.

The basketball season is still very young, and it is in these early season games before the conference schedule that a team really finds their identity.

Tennessee is no exception to this rule.

The Vols play Virginia Commonwealth University in Madison Square Garden this Wednesday, an uptempo team that is coached by former Billy Donovan assistant, Shaka Smart.

The Vols already struggled once with a press-team this year in DII Indianapolis. Maybe Tennessee will show what they learned from that unfortunate game, and maybe they will show who's ready to step into Wayne Chism's shoes, or even better...

Chism's headband.