Tough enough to advance to Final Four?

Soft inside won't work against wide-bodied Michigan State

ST. LOUIS - Tennessee knows it's going to be in for a war of sorts against Michigan State.

Physical basketball is nothing new to the fifth-seeded Spartans (27-8), a veteran NCAA tournament team that under coach Tom Izzo holds an inner-squad rebounding competition each day it refers to as "War."

Michigan State, which leads the nation with a plus-nine rebounding margin, has gone at the drill so ferociously as to have the players don football gear, helmets and all.

"It's going to be a fight on the inside for the ball,'' UT senior Wayne Chism said Saturday. "Ever since I've been at Tennessee people have been saying we are soft, but we've stood up to every challenge.

"This year we made an identity for ourselves by guarding, being physical and rebounding, and no one is going to stop us from playing that way.''

But the sixth-seeded Vols (28-8) know it's a sure bet the Spartans will try to out-muscle them when the teams tip off today (TV: 2:20 p.m., WVLT) at the Edward Jones Dome with a trip to play Butler in the Final Four on the line.

Michigan State has won more NCAA tournament games (32) since 1999 than any other program, and the Spartans have done it with defense and rebounding.

Michigan State has rotated four wide-bodied players at its three front-line positions this season that average 244 pounds - none weighing in at less than 230.

"There's one thing I've not questioned about the guys on this podium here,'' Izzo said. "I've never questioned their toughness, and that's about as good a compliment as I can give them, personally.

"The mentality is . . . tough players win, and I mean that in any sport, any walk of life; could be physically, could be mentally, but it's usually the way it is.''

Both Michigan State and Tennessee pulled together after losing their star players. UT lost All-SEC forward Tyler Smith after his arrest on Jan. 1, and the Spartans lost point guard and former Big Ten player of the year Kalin Lucas to a torn Achilles against Maryland in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

The teams' presence in the Elite Eight indicates mental toughness is not in question.

That leaves physical toughness; desire and brute strength.

"We know we have to prove we won't get pushed around by Michigan State,'' UT wing Cameron Tatum said. "It's about pride, and you can't be fearful. They play physical, we have to play physical right back.''

Tatum (6-foot-6, 197 pounds) and fellow wing J.P. Prince (6-7, 205) have one of the more intriguing matchups, going up against Michigan State senior Raymar Morgan, a 6-8, 230-pounder.

"He's been really focused this end of the year, which happens to a lot of seniors,'' Izzo said. "You could argue whether he's been our best player these last 10 or 12 games, but he's been our most consistent on all ends of the court.''

Morgan echoes Izzo's message: "We live by the same motto: tough players play to win, and it's worked for us over the years.''

If rebounding is basketball's measure of toughness, the statistics back up that mantra for both teams. Michigan State is 23-4 when out-rebounding an opponent; Tennessee is 16-0 when it wins the battle on the boards.

UT coach Bruce Pearl said it's not a matter of boxing out one or two players.

"It's several guys,'' Pearl said. "If they can't get it, they keep it alive. If they can't keep it alive, they'll knock you down trying to keep it alive.''

UT point guard Bobby Maze said the message is clear.

"It's been proven throughout this whole tournament, the team that plays the hardest, the most physical, defends the best and rebounds wins the basketball game,'' Maze said. "That's going to be the key in this game. We want to go out and play 40 minutes of Tennessee basketball.''

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Comments » 109

CoverOrange writes:

About time there was an article on tomorrow's game. Good to see Mike got off the making posts on GVX to write this.

bmaples writes:

Michigan State's best player is short and wears a suit. Izzo knows how to coach, how to game-plan, and how to motivate. They play tough, tough, tough. The Vols can beat them, but it's going to a real battle. Chism and Williams will be key. Go Vols!

UkJarhead writes:

I think I may put on an orange shirt tommorrow. I am so ashamed at our shooting. I hope the VOLS win it all. GBO!!!!!

UTByrd writes:

I've already got butterflies. Best of luck tomorrow UT VOLS!
Go VOLS!!!!!

FWBVol writes:

in response to UkJarhead:

I think I may put on an orange shirt tommorrow. I am so ashamed at our shooting. I hope the VOLS win it all. GBO!!!!!

Welcome to the club, if only temporarily. GBO!!!

VolJunkie writes:

Kentucky playing like the young team that they are ... Calipari has done nothing to adjust. If Calipari had Bruce's coaching skills Memphis could be vacating a NC rather than just a Final Four.

I've heard every Vol echo the "defense and rebounding" mantra; CBP has got this team ready and focused. Sunday, we make UT history again and move on to face Butler.

I said it's GREAT to be a Tennessee Vol!

Go Vols!

peerlessvolfan writes:

I live in Michigan and I've invited all of my Spartan friends to have a Vol-Sparty Party tomorrow. My dining room is 2/3 orange and 1/3 green. Can't wait--Go VOLS!!!!!!!!

UTByrd writes:

It's looking like Kentucky is going down to WVU. Isn't it rather ironic that UT could be the ONLY SEC team to still be playing? I was thinking before their game of how UT would be better off playing KY instead ov WVU...they are long, lean, can rebound like heck and have a great coach. Let's go get MSU first then worry about the rest. No matter what happens, this truly has been an exceptional season.
Go VOLS!!!!!

vol94 writes:

I understand you are frustrated but plenty of time. You guys can on ona 12-2 run in 2 or three minutes. Your D is picking up and KY will get some easy transition baskets.

Not over yet. Have the three ball, Wall, and Cousins. If you are down by 10 w two minutes then maybe but not now. Plus the refs just gave you guys another break.

BigHouse_of_IceGulp writes:

in response to Plasticman:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Have to agree watching this. WV has no ball handler and UK does not press??? No force feeding Cousins when they can't hit 3's???

UTByrd writes:

KY just got another call from, guess who, Valentine. Name sound familiar. Anyway, it's 64-53 WVU with 2:21 to go.
Go VOLS!!!!!

west_GA_Volsfan writes:

If anyone told you 2 weeks ago that the VOLS would be the ONLY SEC team standing, the meatheads on CBS would have called them INSANE!!!!!!!!!!!
GBO

RoadTrip writes:

Just like the last game - who are the refs? I must say that I am happy to see Valentine calling the Cats game today. Bet they wish he wasn't!

Physical teams gave us problems until Williams came back and stepped up his play. Now it is a strength.

Does anyone feel that if the Cats go down (which is looking probable right now) that it is like the Red Sea is parting for our Vols to walk through to the championship?!!!!

vol94 writes:

in response to BigHouse_of_IceGulp:

Have to agree watching this. WV has no ball handler and UK does not press??? No force feeding Cousins when they can't hit 3's???

Gosh, KY just got another break. I don't like the foul they just called but....

I still think KY has a chance - down by 9 with 2.21 left and their ball handler just fouled out. W. VA is so tense now. 7 point game. W. VA missing foul shots.

John_10065 writes:

This is going to be one tough game. But they all are at this point in the season.

We looked matched pretty well statistically but the MSU bench has a slight lead over the UT bench, deeper Big Dance run experience and a coach that equals Pearl on creativity, pregame planning, and game management.

But I have a good feeling about the intangibles. The Vols have something to prove. Some may be sick about hearing it but the "incident" was a rallying point. There's a chemistry that rallied this team and brought them together from top to bottom. They smell Destiny and I can see it in their faces. I really think that the lose to UK in the SEC tourney was a good thing. They reacted positively and with a determined vengeance going into the Big Dance. Big kudos to the talking heads for firing them up even more.

I can't make a prediction about what is going to happen in this game. I knew against OSU if we ran the carp out of them we would win. I don't know a good game plan, slow the tempo or push the tempo. But I suspect that we will play a similar paint domination game with a fierce defense as we have done so well. But the scary part is that is exactly what Izzy is probably expecting and telegraphing our gameplan to a coach like Izzy is never a good idea.

Somehow, I think the Vols will win just upon chemistry, determination, force of will and a sense of Destiny.

Besides, I need a reason to spend cash on a ticket to Indy! There has to be a lot of orange for the Vols in Butler's backyard!

UTByrd writes:

Live by the long ball, die by the long ball.
Go VOLS!!!!!

BigHouse_of_IceGulp writes:

in response to RoadTrip:

Just like the last game - who are the refs? I must say that I am happy to see Valentine calling the Cats game today. Bet they wish he wasn't!

Physical teams gave us problems until Williams came back and stepped up his play. Now it is a strength.

Does anyone feel that if the Cats go down (which is looking probable right now) that it is like the Red Sea is parting for our Vols to walk through to the championship?!!!!

It's never a walk to a championship. Our team is scrappy but our basketball I.Q. leaves a lot to be desired at times. Going against as an experienced team as MSU will prove a tuff task.

springtx_vol writes:

Does anyone else recognize that for the first time in UT history, the men's basketball team has progressed further than the women's?

I can't really take credit for the recognition, heard it on talk radio this afternoon. Pretty amazing run by our ladies!

VolJunkie writes:

in response to RoadTrip:

Just like the last game - who are the refs? I must say that I am happy to see Valentine calling the Cats game today. Bet they wish he wasn't!

Physical teams gave us problems until Williams came back and stepped up his play. Now it is a strength.

Does anyone feel that if the Cats go down (which is looking probable right now) that it is like the Red Sea is parting for our Vols to walk through to the championship?!!!!

Would not have met UK until the NC game anyway; that's what I have in my shredded bracket. Get past MSU and UT will face a hot Butler team in their hometown with a chance to go the the NC game. Still work to do, one game at a time ...

I said it's great to be a Tennessee Vol!

Go Vols!

givehim6 writes:

Good luck big orange, play tough, play smart! Looks like after all the dust clears UT will be the lone SEC team.

99gator writes:

give 'em hell tomorrow. i believe you have a great shot.

VolJunkie writes:

This is over, Kentucky's done

Witch Doctor, we've already talked about superstitions, tell my wife that it's okay for me to wear the same orange shirt on Sunday that I've worn for the last three tourney games (while watching the smaller TV :))

I said it's Great to be a Tennessee Vol!

Go Vols!

mdvol writes:

Buh-bye Kentucky! We will buy your tickets to the final four!

UT can beat all remaining teams in tourney. Duke will be tough in the finals but anything can happen with the NC on the line.

UTByrd writes:

It's getting dicey for WVU. However, Wall just fouled out. Kudos to Wall as well as Cousins for being such great players. I was really hoping for a possible all SEC NC. It ain't over yet.
Go VOLS!!!!!

mdvol writes:

Enjoy the NBA all you KY student-athletes. HAH! I doubt you guys even went to class. Go get paid now. We will be on TV tomorrow at 2:20.

John_10065 writes:

in response to VolJunkie:

This is over, Kentucky's done

Witch Doctor, we've already talked about superstitions, tell my wife that it's okay for me to wear the same orange shirt on Sunday that I've worn for the last three tourney games (while watching the smaller TV :))

I said it's Great to be a Tennessee Vol!

Go Vols!

Let's carry the torch for SEC roundball! The real roundball fans from UK will be there for us.

I tip my hat to UK, they played to the end and never gave up. But sadly it might be a reason for Wall, Cousins and Bledsoe to come back next season. I expected at least 2 of them to go pro with a Final Four appearance. Something to think about next season!

I don't think there is a way to turn blue into orange but I know there will be some Big Blue fans cheering us on tomorrow for the sake of SEC respect.

northernvavol writes:

sorry cat scratch, ukjarhead, and wildcat,...like others, i was hoping to see the cats on the other side of the bracket. obviously, a helluva' year for a bunch of freshman. wish some would stay, but the 'league' will be calling in june i'm sure.

in any event, thanks for the well wishes last night on ut's behalf...hope we can hold up our end of the conference tomorrow!

sorry it didn't work out for you guys from lexington today...

osbymartin#581730 writes:

Done deal..

usnavyvolfaninva_still_getting_paid writes:

in response to Plasticman:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Good point. If they are, I'm certainly not going to complain...

crimsonviper writes:

Get em' tommorrow Vols...
Just take it...GBO!

peerlessvolfan writes:

I love being the only SEC team left!

UTVOLSRROCKN writes:

in response to northernvavol:

sorry cat scratch, ukjarhead, and wildcat,...like others, i was hoping to see the cats on the other side of the bracket. obviously, a helluva' year for a bunch of freshman. wish some would stay, but the 'league' will be calling in june i'm sure.

in any event, thanks for the well wishes last night on ut's behalf...hope we can hold up our end of the conference tomorrow!

sorry it didn't work out for you guys from lexington today...

I'd like to ditto that post. Ky and the Lady Vols both lose today? Guess thats why its called March Madness! GBO!

UkJarhead writes:

I truly hope UT wins the championship. This sucks....I will be looking for the VOLS to carry the torch. It hurts.... It hurts

Tothehills writes:

Gotta hand it to the Mountaineers. Maybe an all 'eers final? UT and WVU would be a HUGE game.

8ball writes:

Great to be a Vol. With wildkittens losing I know Ky fans ( ashley Judd )will not sleep for a year. If we lose I will not sleep for 1 day, then wake up to football. GO VOLS

John_10065 writes:

I know Wall will be gone and if it wasn't for the change that forced top HS prospects to play a year in college he would never been at UK.

Cousins, I am not sure. He has the big body and strength of a good low post player but he was overshadowed a lot of the season by Wall.

He will be putting out NBA feelers on his draft status in a couple days. But I know that if he goes at least another season at UK and develops more, which he can, he will have to weigh his options and decide if he wants to risk a career ending injury VS a NBA contract and how much another season will pump up his value.

Bledsoe had a good opprotunity to prove himself and he did most of the season. I think he will be back just to pump up his value.

Patterson? Who knows! He has another year, if he chooses it.

Right now I am going to watch them lick their wounds on WLKY in the post game local media news conference!

FastVolDribble writes:

I am so excited about tomorrow's game. I just watched the UK/WV game on NCAA.com live streaming. My friend in California is a UK fan. I won't even email her yet; give her time to process the final.

In the meantime, may the Vols get a peaceful and restful night's sleep and wake up rejuvenated and ready to play defense and rebounding all across the court.

John_10065 writes:

in response to John_10065:

I know Wall will be gone and if it wasn't for the change that forced top HS prospects to play a year in college he would never been at UK.

Cousins, I am not sure. He has the big body and strength of a good low post player but he was overshadowed a lot of the season by Wall.

He will be putting out NBA feelers on his draft status in a couple days. But I know that if he goes at least another season at UK and develops more, which he can, he will have to weigh his options and decide if he wants to risk a career ending injury VS a NBA contract and how much another season will pump up his value.

Bledsoe had a good opprotunity to prove himself and he did most of the season. I think he will be back just to pump up his value.

Patterson? Who knows! He has another year, if he chooses it.

Right now I am going to watch them lick their wounds on WLKY in the post game local media news conference!

WTH! Someone needs to tutor this old bastage on the difference between a new post and a response!

FastVolDribble writes:

Michigan St. has been practicing rebounding while wearing football helmets. I still think the Vols will prevail! GOOOOOOOO VOLS!!!

newportvol writes:

in response to John_10065:

I know Wall will be gone and if it wasn't for the change that forced top HS prospects to play a year in college he would never been at UK.

Cousins, I am not sure. He has the big body and strength of a good low post player but he was overshadowed a lot of the season by Wall.

He will be putting out NBA feelers on his draft status in a couple days. But I know that if he goes at least another season at UK and develops more, which he can, he will have to weigh his options and decide if he wants to risk a career ending injury VS a NBA contract and how much another season will pump up his value.

Bledsoe had a good opprotunity to prove himself and he did most of the season. I think he will be back just to pump up his value.

Patterson? Who knows! He has another year, if he chooses it.

Right now I am going to watch them lick their wounds on WLKY in the post game local media news conference!

Cousins is gone.. Hes rated as the number 2 player if he came back he would be giving up millions.. Paterson hes gone.. Wall top pick hes gone

wildcatbasketball writes:

in response to UTVOLSRROCKN:

I'd like to ditto that post. Ky and the Lady Vols both lose today? Guess thats why its called March Madness! GBO!

To ALL VOL Fans!!! Good luck tomorrow!!! Our youth showed up in our shooting tonight!!! We could not buy a 3 pointer.

I am a DIE-HARD UK BB fan and am very upset we lost but....I think the sun will still come up tomorrow. God willing...

Go get us an SEC team in the final 4!!!

usnavyvolfaninva_still_getting_paid writes:

in response to UkJarhead:

I truly hope UT wins the championship. This sucks....I will be looking for the VOLS to carry the torch. It hurts.... It hurts

Hey, man, the upset bug's bit just about everyone this March! they had an awesome run, and I for one look forward to our meetings next January!

usnavyvolfaninva_still_getting_paid writes:

in response to wildcatbasketball:

To ALL VOL Fans!!! Good luck tomorrow!!! Our youth showed up in our shooting tonight!!! We could not buy a 3 pointer.

I am a DIE-HARD UK BB fan and am very upset we lost but....I think the sun will still come up tomorrow. God willing...

Go get us an SEC team in the final 4!!!

thanks wildcat... appreciate the kind words... .gonna be fun the next few Januaries...

BigOrangeBill writes:

Two days, two incredible games! Tennessee makes it to the Elite Eight...and Kentucky takes it on the chin. Here's my take: Why in the world didn't Calipari call a time out? Why didn't he MAKE his team quit shooting threes (3 out of 26 today)? Why didn't he go into the post EVERY TIME with Walls to score, kick out or make another incredible pass? That was the worse coaching I've seen THIS SEASON. Kentucky's loss is on Calipari. Guys, our Vols have got the best coach in the SEC and one of the best in the nation!! One more thing, NOBODY has commented on the great recruiting haul our Vols has coming in next year. Not one word!! Someday, Coach Pearl is going to have the great team like Kentucky had this year (not knocking this year's team, they are #1 in heart and soul!!! Bar none!). Just think, though, what Coach Pearl would do with a team FULL of NBA potentials. He has always outcoached Calipari and always will. I think we'll give Michigan State all they want tomorrow! Go get 'em guys!! We're all behind you 110%.

usnavyvolfaninva_still_getting_paid writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEAR:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

good point

AtLeastMyTeamHasPerfectSeasons writes:

The sad thing is if you are a Kentucky fan is now you have to wait till November to watch a winning team again.

Ironcity writes:

in response to wildcatbasketball:

To ALL VOL Fans!!! Good luck tomorrow!!! Our youth showed up in our shooting tonight!!! We could not buy a 3 pointer.

I am a DIE-HARD UK BB fan and am very upset we lost but....I think the sun will still come up tomorrow. God willing...

Go get us an SEC team in the final 4!!!

Most of us don't realize how hard it is when you have freshman and young players carrying the load.

The real difference in UT this year is the Senior leadership. When the chips have been down. Prince, Chism and Maze have really stepped up. In a weird way it probably hurt UK tonight to have such easy games early on. some of the freshman kind of melted when the going got tough.

RoadTrip writes:

That last line by Bobby is ringing in my ears. Please play 40 minutes of Tennessee BB. If you do the you will probably win. If you play it and still lose, you gave it all and can walk away without regrets.

The sea has parted and the path to the top is wide open with the Cats' loss today. To Cat fans - great season! Hate that it all went south on you today - we understand your pain. Doesn't take away from the fact your team dominated this year.

UTByrd writes:

Wildcat, jarhead, et al, Congratulations on a great year. I know your expectations at UK, due to your successful BB history, are to win it all every year. Quite understable and sorry we can't meet in the NC.
On the other hand, our giddiness is for making it to the Elite 8 for the FIRST time. We will neveer be able to match your history but, it seems, Sir Bruce has started a new chapter in our's. Let us hope the book he is writing will be a best seller with a terrific ending. I would like to say in advance, thanks for pulling for us tomorrow. I would do the same for UK.
go VOLS!!!!!

wildcatbasketball writes:

Agreed.....Wall has already posted on FB that he, Cousins, Patterson will not be back. Orton and Bledsoe are testing the NBA draft waters as well according to him.....

Great talent but young...

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