College basketball coaches love to say it’s all about the match-ups, especially in the throes of March Madness.
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl was still trying to determine Monday whether or not Oklahoma State was a favorable match-up for the Vols in the NCAA tournament’s East Region opening round.
He at least sounded hopeful.
“I think both teams could make each other play better,’’ Pearl said. “Both could play well.’’
The No. 9-seed Vols (21-12) meet the No. 8-seed Cowboys (22-11) on Friday at 12:25 p.m. (TV: WVLT) in Dayton, Ohio.
Oklahoma State is in its first year under head coach Travis Ford, a former Kentucky Wildcat who has emulated many of the tactics of his coach, Rick Pitino.
In other words, don’t look for a tense, half-court game like the 64-61 defeat to Mississippi State the Vols suffered in the SEC tournament championship game on Sunday.
“Both teams like to run, both teams play better going fast,’’ Pearl said, “so it’ll be a real exciting game to watch.
“I think we’ll be able to score. The challenge will be will we be able to defend. Can we stop them in transition? How will we be able to best guard their ball-screen and spread?’’
The Cowboys rank No. 6 nationally in scoring (81.1 points), No. 5 in 3-point baskets (9.3 per game) and No. 23 in 3-point percentage (38.4).
“I like Travis Ford basketball,’’ Pearl said. “I do. I like it because we try to play it.
“I would say, traditionally, a bigger, stronger, more physical, slower, ball-controlling match-up might be tougher.
“I think (Oklahoma State) likes the match-up. They would also struggle against a bigger, slower, ball-controlling team.’’
Pearl gave the Vols a day off Monday. They will practice here today and Wednesday and hold a public workoutnoon to 12:40 p.m. Thursday at University of Dayton Arena.
By then, the UT staff will have a definitive scouting report in place.
Tennessee’s games with the Cowboys in 2005-06 and 2006-07 will be only marginally informative because Ford’s style is different from former coach Eddie Sutton’s.
“Oklahoma State is more talented than anybody we’ve played against in the SEC,’’ Pearl said. “They’ve got three or four guards that offensively are really good, better than Mississippi State’s guards.
“James Anderson (a 6-foot-6 guard) is probably as good a player as we’ve played against all season long and we’ve played against some great players.’’
Common Opponents: The Vols and Cowboys faced three common opponents this year with equal results.
Both were in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla., in November. Both beat Siena, UT by 78-64, Oklahoma State by 77-68. Both lost to Gonzaga, the Vols by 83-71, the Cowboys by 83-74. UT also lost to Gonzaga in Knoxville, 89-79 in overtime.
Both also lost at Kansas, the Vols by 92-85, the Cowboys by 78-67.
About That 9 Seed: Pearl was still disappointed in receiving a lower seed than expected, but was philosophical.
“We’re seeded ninth,’’ he said. “That means we’re some place between the 32nd- and 36th-best team in the field. I’d go along with that.
“Based on how we performed, I think they got it right. . . . I don’t think we’ve proven we’re better than where we find ourselves because we’ve not won enough.’’
He acknowledged that the mid-February losses at Ole Miss (by 16 points) and at Kentucky (by 19) were especially damaging.
Defending the SEC: Pearl said the SEC’s atypically low RPI was a huge disadvantage when at-large bids were handed out. The SEC received two at-large bids while the Big Ten earned six.
“There was obviously a perception that the league was down and the NCAA selection committee made that a reality,’’ Pearl said.
“The Big Ten got three of the last teams in. Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan not only benefited from their body of work but by the overall strength of the Big Ten.
“Does that mean those teams are better than Auburn, Florida and South Carolina? I don’t think they are.’’