UT men tune up for March this week
Posted: Tuesday, November 25, 2008 3:53 pm
By: By BETH RUCKER, Associated Press Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — March Madness in November?
That’s how coach Bruce Pearl plans on spending his Thanksgiving.
His Tennessee Volunteers travel to Orlando, Fla., today for the Old Spice Classic, a tournament that features eight NCAA Tournament-caliber teams playing Thursday through Sunday.
“If you beat them, you beat an NCAA Tournament team. This is where we start building our resume,” Pearl said Monday.
Tennessee, which jumped two spots to No. 12 in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll on Monday, will face Siena in the opening round on Thursday with a second game against either Wichita State or No. 21 Georgetown on Friday.
Also participating are Maryland, No. 5 Michigan State, Oklahoma State and No. 9 Gonzaga — a team the Vols are already scheduled to play at home on Jan. 7.
Pearl thinks there may even be a couple of Final Four contenders among the eight teams.
“I’m just excited about my team’s opportunity to step up because I can tell you, it’s going to have to be a pretty big step up,” Pearl said.
That’s to say, the coach thinks his players has a lot of work to do on their game.
The Vols got a 76-66 win at Middle Tennessee on Friday night in their first road game of the season, but Pearl feels his players took a step back in some ways.
He felt their offensive execution was unacceptable and that they’re not pressing nearly enough.
As a result Tennessee (3-0) isn’t forcing its usual number of turnovers and isn’t getting as many points in transition.
“We did a lot of good things to win the basketball game, but as I’ve said from the very beginning, we’ve got a long way to go. These are now NCAA tournament teams, every one of them. And a couple of teams that could be in the Final Four,” Pearl said.
Things will only be tougher against Siena, the team that beat Vanderbilt in the opening round of last season’s NCAA tournament.
Pearl expects the Saints (2-0) to pressure well and do enough defensively to disrupt the Vols’ offensive flow.
And though Tennessee has a very strong and tall inside presence, Pearl suspects the Volunteers will have a hard time getting to their big men like forward Wayne Chism — a Bolivar product — and center Brian Williams.
“We’ve got a size advantage inside, but much like many of my teams in the past, they’ll defend the post with ball pressure,” he said.
To keep from overworking his players this week in preparation for what could be several physical games in a row, Pearl planned to keep practice light today and Wednesday.
Injuries are also already taking a toll on the Volunteers
Pearl is having guard J.P. Prince sit out until at least Wednesday to rest the ankle that he hurt at Middle Tennessee in Murfreesboro.
“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Pearl said. “There’s a chance he won’t play though.”