PITTSBURGH - It wasn't too long into Tennessee's first film session on Pittsburgh that Vols coach Bruce Pearl saw what all the fuss was about.
"I've never played a Jamie Dixon team, but his numbers are staggering and after watching the film of his team it's understandable,'' Pearl said. "What they do all fits together, and it complicates any strategy you might have to play against them.''
Pearl and the No. 11 ranked Vols (6-0) face a No. 3-ranked Panthers team (10-0) at 3:15 today (TV: ESPN) that's bigger and stronger than UT at most every position.
"There are going to be a lot of great matchups within the game,'' Pearl said. "We certainly don't have the edge in the coaching box.''
Dixon is the winningest coach in Big East conference history (94-41, .696) and ranks third among active coaches in winning percentage - one spot ahead of Pearl.
Pearl said his 6-7 record against top-5 teams is best attributed to him "keeping it real'' with his players, and letting them know exactly what they need to execute to win games.
"(UT athletic director) Mike Hamilton came up with a T-shirt a few years ago that said, 'Expect to win,' " Pearl said. "In my case, in these type of games, it's 'prepare to win.' "
Ultimately the players will settle the marquee game in this year's SEC/Big East Invitational at the Consol Energy Center.
Pitt, like most UT opponents, figures to try to limit the Vols' scoring in transition by keeping its turnover numbers near its season average (11.6).
Tennessee, meanwhile, will try to control the Panthers' second-shot offense, as Pitt rebounds 48 percent of its shots missed.
A look at how the Vols starters match up with the Panthers:
Point Guard: Melvin Goins vs. Ashton Gibbs - Gibbs is a physical 6-foot-2 combo guard who leads the Panthers in scoring, and he can do it from all over the floor.
Gibbs is Pitt's top 3-point shooter, both in makes (33) and shooting percentage (.458), so Goins will have to be alert at all times and won't be able to sag off and offer much help defense.
Shooting Guard: Scotty Hopson vs. Brad Wanamaker - Wanamaker is the best playmaker on the Panthers' squad, leading Pitt with 5.7 assists per game.
"Wanamaker will probe the lane and can turn corners, that's why Dick Vitale rated Pitt's backcourt as one of the best,'' Pearl said. "Scotty goes to the lane to score and attack the rim, which is what we ask him to do. Wanamaker is more patient and sets up his teammates.''
Wing: Cameron Tatum vs. Gilbert Brown - Both players are 6-6, but Tatum is giving up 20 pounds to the athletic Brown, who is second on the team in assists.
"Brown is a physical player, but Cam is a cagey veteran,'' Pearl said.
Tatum will need to be, as the Panthers figure to try to post-up Brown in the paint.
Power forward: Tobias Harris vs. Talib Zanna - More than anything, the Vols are looking for Harris to play big on the boards, as Zanna is pulling down 6.2 rebounds per game and scores on put-backs.
"(Zanna) has a physical presence on the block, and he'll try to be physical with me and push me around,'' Harris said. "But there aren't many four men fast enough to stick with me on the outside, so I'll try to use my versatility and maneuver around him.''
Post: Brian Williams vs. Gary McGhee - McGhee is a 6-11, 250-pound senior who leads the Panthers with 6.8 rebounds per game.
Williams will be charged with staying between McGhee and the basket, as McGhee commonly gets offensive rebounds on Pitt's misses.
Like UT, the Panthers are deep at center and won't be afraid to use up their allotment of fouls.
Assuming both teams meet their main objectives - UT limiting Pitt's second shots, and the Panthers preventing the Vols from scoring in transition - the game could come down to free throws.
Tennessee leads the nation in free throws per field-goal attempt and is third in the country with 32.7 free throws per game while hitting at a .684 clip.
Pitt shoots .667 from the foul line and has made more free throws (158) than its opponents have attempted (156).