Mike Strange: Different teams, same goals for Vols, Lady Vols

Mike Strange

The first week of April seems impossibly distant. Yet that's what Pat Summitt sees when she says she wants her team to cut down some nets this season.

The road to Indianapolis starts tonight for Tennessee's Lady Vols. They're the marquee guests to help Louisville open a new arena.

Likewise, the road to Houston begins tonight for Tennessee's men. Neighbor Chattanooga visits Thompson-Boling Arena.

Houston is the site of the men's Final Four. While Final Fours are a fixture for UT's women - 22 in 36 seasons - they've never become part of the vernacular for Tennessee's men.

That changed a bit last year in St. Louis when Bruce Pearl's Vols came within a tantalizing possession against Michigan State of crashing one.

The Vols might not get back to that threshold this season, but at least a Final Four no longer seems in the realm of the mythical, like some 94-foot, hardwood Shangri-La.

With everyone back from a 32-3 team, plus a couple of nice additions, Summitt is adequately armed to stalk a return to the Final Four after a two-year absence.

Her team is deep and big and experienced. But what encourages her most is its maturity.

"Now, they're taking ownership,'' she said, "holding people accountable in practice.

"It's amazing how quickly some of our players are going to call people out. I think you have to have that.''

Summitt will likely notch her 1,038th victory as she launches her 37th season. But with the Lady Vols, it's the wins in March - and April - that ultimately tell the story. Everything else is prelude.

Connecticut is still the queen, until somebody knocks the Huskies off the throne. There's some feeling that's more likely to happen this year than the past two.

I asked Summitt if she always sizes up UConn at the beginning of a season. She said yes, but mentioned Baylor in the same breath.

It was Baylor and 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner, after all, that dismissed the Lady Vols last year with a 77-62 whipping in the Sweet 16.

"What Baylor did the last go-round, I'm anxious to see if we're going to show up and represent Tennessee the way we do in practice every day,'' Summitt said.

She'll find out Dec. 14 in Waco.

Pearl begins his sixth season with a team that is also deep and big. Pearl is 5-for-5 on NCAA tournaments and a sixth consecutive bid would be school history. That will happen, it says here.

But there are clouds. One is an NCAA investigation, which has, among other inconveniences, led to Pearl opening the season without a contract.

Another is the shocking exhibition loss to Division II Indianapolis on Monday night. The money question is whether it was a hiccup or a red flag.

"I think it's both,'' Pearl said. "It's hiccup if we can do what Syracuse (2009) and Michigan State (2007) did (both lost exhibition to Division II teams but went on to reach the Sweet 16).

"It's also a red flag, because we are going to get a lot better throughout the season because we've got so many pieces.

"But are we good enough now to beat the teams on our schedule?''

Now is here. It's time to find out.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com or 865-342-6276. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 5

dwa7#337691 writes:

predict:

UT Vols 80
UTC 62

VolWoman writes:

in response to UofTNFan:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

The game is at 7:00 & according to the media guide, it's on at 9:30, like you said. That means it's tape delayed & on at the same time as the men.

Bubbanuts2010 writes:

in response to VolWoman:

The game is at 7:00 & according to the media guide, it's on at 9:30, like you said. That means it's tape delayed & on at the same time as the men.

The game is at 9:00 pm on FSN. UT 92 CHATT 67

Lizardgrad89 writes:

UT 66-60

UTC looks to be focusing on defense and rebounding, which means they will likely try to slow the game down. The offense isn't clicking yet in these early season games, so it's unlikely UT can get the fast break cranked up too much.

I think the final spread will be fairly small, but I don't think UT will feel terribly threatened in the game.

vols104 writes:

My information calls for the game to be on the old regular SportsSouth, on Comcast at 8pm central, 9 est.

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