UT's quest for New York starts with Belmont

Pearl previews the NIT opener against Belmont

Tennessee senior post Brian Williams had been counting on a homecoming of sorts via the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament.

"It was something I'd been looking forward to for a long time,'' said Williams, who hails from the Bronx. "I didn't realize we had to win games to get there.''

The 24th-ranked Vols will need to win them against hungry, quality mid-major programs, beginning with Belmont tonight (TV: ESPNU, 9:30 p.m.).

It's the second game of a doubleheader at Thompson-Boling Arena. Arkansas State (0-1) and Missouri State (1-0) play in the opener at 7.

The winners and losers of tonight's games will meet Wednesday at 7 p.m. and 9:30. UT (1-0) will play in the 7 p.m. game regardless of tonight's outcome.

UT coach Bruce Pearl, whose team needs to win both games to advance to play at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Nov. 24 in the tournament's semifinals, isn't assuming anything.

"We'll have to play better to beat Belmont than we did Friday to beat Chattanooga,'' said Pearl, whose team opened the season with an 82-62 win over the Mocs. "Belmont is a really good defensive team. They're well-coached, deep and physical.''

Coached by Knoxville native Rick Byrd, who once served as a student assistant to legendary Vols coach Ray Mears, the Bruins (0-0) have won a share of three of the past five Atlantic Sun Conference titles.

Pearl says he knows what's going through the minds of Byrd and his players.

"Having been on the other side of this fence, I know what their mindset is,'' said Pearl, who coached at Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the Horizon League prior to taking the UT job six years ago. "They can't guarantee they'll win their conference tournament, so they have to have a resume where there are enough non-conference wins to get an at-large bid.

"These three teams (Belmont, Arkansas State and Missouri State) are playing for their NCAA tournament lives.''

And they won't be holding anything back, according to UT senior transfer John Fields, who played at mid-major schools East Carolina (Conference USA) and UNC-Wilmington (Colonial Athletic Association).

"Those guys are coming in with a chip on their shoulder,'' Fields said. "I remember when I played at mid-majors, and when we came in to play big schools we wanted to put it on them.''

Pearl said each of the four teams in the Knoxville Region are capable of advancing to New York City.

"When we played in the (preseason) NIT the last time (2006), Fordham and Wilmington in Nashville were not as good as these teams here,'' Pearl said. "Don't circle (NIT regional hosts) Tennessee, Wake Forest, UCLA and Villanova just yet.

"This is the best field they've ever attracted.''

Lineup Details: Pearl said he'll continue to start Williams at the post and maintain a 10-man rotation.

Williams struggled the past two games, making just 1 of 5 shots through 44 minutes of action.

"I want him to want the ball more,'' Pearl said. "We've got to get him more touches, and he's got to want it more.''

Williams said he's adjusting.

"I just need to get more aggressive,'' Williams said. "Everyone we've played so far has been doubling down on the post.''

Poll Streak: The Vols extended their streak of consecutive weeks ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll to 21.

Pearl is pleased his team remains ranked, even if he doesn't believe they are necessarily worthy at this point.

"That's great we're still in there,'' said Pearl, whose teams from 2007-09 set the school record with 32 straight weeks in the AP Top 25. "I don't think right now we're one of the top 25 teams in the country. I don't think we're playing at that level yet. I think we can be.

"But taking us just where we are right now, we're not one of the top 25 teams in the country right now.''

Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. He may be reached at 865-755-5599. Follow him at http://twitter.com/mgrif32 and at http://blogs.knoxnews.com/askgriff/

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Comments » 29

abnerPeabody writes:

New York, here we come.

ATLVOL55 writes:

Not too worry. UGA and FL are both Highly OVERRATED this year. This TN team will be special by the end of the year.

Go Vols

AVOL4EVR2 writes:

in response to MrPearl:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Oh my!!! Trolls are on the U.T. basketball site too!! Please go away...Get a job..

give_him_6 writes:

in response to MrPearl:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Wow..what a buzzkill you are.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

Historically Belmont always plays us tough and aren't easily intimidated.UTCs'defense was pitiful at best..This is the time for all our forwards to find themselves..Harris has done great asserting himself and will be a major scorer come mid January;Fields has been good defensively but needs to score more..Hall hopefully has improved his skills off the dribble..Maymon seems lost in the mix.Strong forward player will help Williams improve in the post.In the coming games watch to see how good we pass on back door cuts;transition and against zone defense;this will show us if the team is building chemistry..Goins ballhandling is also a key;He was good against UTC but they were lost on defense..We should make it to New York and games against Wake or Villanova will be a great test to see if we're ready for big time games

VictorKruger writes:

in response to Plasticman:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I also get frustrated with the lack of basketball coverage during the overlap period with football, but we all know what pays the bills! I was especially disappointed about the coverage leading up to the UTC game, especially given all the UTC players with Knoxville connections. I was also hoping to hear what was going on with Phillip Jurick. Does anyone know?

mocsandvolsfan writes:

Mr. Pearl(U wish) is back!!?? I for one will not re-post your silly remarks...too much trouble to push that Re-ply button. Your posts aren't worth repeating...The only reason I even look at "Mr. Pearl's"(uwish) posts is because EVERYONE KEEPS RE-POSTING HIM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sorry I got carried away...now what was the article about? Oh yeah...I agree with the real Mr.Pearl about us not ready for the top 25...at this point I would worry about any one we play that's a decent team....hope that changes tonight. I feel confident it will eventually and we'll deserve a top 20 or maybe 10 even.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

I think Phillip is injured for a while , but I'm not sure.

Trifecta_Storm writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

Historically Belmont always plays us tough and aren't easily intimidated.UTCs'defense was pitiful at best..This is the time for all our forwards to find themselves..Harris has done great asserting himself and will be a major scorer come mid January;Fields has been good defensively but needs to score more..Hall hopefully has improved his skills off the dribble..Maymon seems lost in the mix.Strong forward player will help Williams improve in the post.In the coming games watch to see how good we pass on back door cuts;transition and against zone defense;this will show us if the team is building chemistry..Goins ballhandling is also a key;He was good against UTC but they were lost on defense..We should make it to New York and games against Wake or Villanova will be a great test to see if we're ready for big time games

Maymon is not eligible until late December!!

mocsandvolsfan writes:

licknpromise? u been watchin' our practices or our games?

mocsandvolsfan writes:

I hate that reply-to button...How many times do we need to see a post!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!or an exclamation mark?

utk1996 writes:

Is the game on DirectTV?

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to utk1996:

Is the game on DirectTV?

ESPNU is all I've heard.

rbwusa writes:

Chick a Boom Chick a Boom "Don't You Just Love It" Go Big Orange!

richvol writes:

Brian Williams needs to get his big azz in gear. After finally picking up his game at tournament time last season he now needs motivating again? He's a senior AND the biggest and most powerful player on the court at any given time. He ought to be scoring 15 to 20 points a game every game. I'm sorry but I have no patience for this kind of lazy.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

I D I O T S.

UTVOLSRROCKN writes:

in response to utk1996:

Is the game on DirectTV?

Yes, it is. Channel 208 ESPNU

alfrizzle097 writes:

in response to AVOL4EVR2:

Oh my!!! Trolls are on the U.T. basketball site too!! Please go away...Get a job..

It is a legit concern, even if the presentation was incendiary. I still want good things for the team and I don't want us on probation, but I also want us to not be deserving of probation. Here's hoping Pearl is sincere in wanting to clean up his act. I, for one, want to believe that we are capable of growth, but I also am not naieve enough to just assume it is there.

vols1987 writes:

in response to MrPearl:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Wow, nikki, bitter much? Feel bad for someone who has so much hatred in their heart.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

Historically Belmont always plays us tough and aren't easily intimidated.UTCs'defense was pitiful at best..This is the time for all our forwards to find themselves..Harris has done great asserting himself and will be a major scorer come mid January;Fields has been good defensively but needs to score more..Hall hopefully has improved his skills off the dribble..Maymon seems lost in the mix.Strong forward player will help Williams improve in the post.In the coming games watch to see how good we pass on back door cuts;transition and against zone defense;this will show us if the team is building chemistry..Goins ballhandling is also a key;He was good against UTC but they were lost on defense..We should make it to New York and games against Wake or Villanova will be a great test to see if we're ready for big time games

Maymon is not "lost in the mix", it's just that he's not eligible and won't be until the semester is over because he was a mid-year transfer last year. He has been practicing with the team all along.

BTW, Wake Forest is not very good this year, for now at least. They were picked last in the ACC in the pre-season poll. They have a new coach, Jeff Bzdelik, former head coach of the NBA Denver Nuggets, and a very young and inexperienced squad. They only won by five at home against Hampton last night after losing their first game against another "no-name".

Juzkruzin writes:

in response to Agent_Orange:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Yea it is a Mini Tournement play as long as you win!!

Juzkruzin writes:

in response to MrPearl:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

And what position do you hold on the NCAA? Why sign up for a site that isn't in your state, you have nothing to do with the school and you sure as Hell don't have anything to do with the NCAA. Doesn't Hog Calling U. have a site for you to post on. I wish their was an IQ Test you had to take before you could joined this site and see how many would drop like flies if you also made it retroactive, for sur you would be gone. A smart person knows when you have nothing positive to say about anyone then they say nothing. Why don't you follow that policy??

rab63 writes:

Can anyone tell me what channel the game is going to be on? I'm with Comcast and I pay extra for digital and HD. ESPNU means nothng to me, I have to have a number. I usually miss the first few minutes of the games cause I'm going through the channels one at a time while listening to Bob Kesling. A guy could have a nervous breakdown for Pete's sake!!!

JDL211 writes:

Bleacher Report ranks your coach 24th nationally and 3rd in the SEC conference.

JohnnyD writes:

Lets go Tennessee!

born2ride writes:

in response to MrPearl:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Just like Kentucky.

nola_vol writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

Historically Belmont always plays us tough and aren't easily intimidated.UTCs'defense was pitiful at best..This is the time for all our forwards to find themselves..Harris has done great asserting himself and will be a major scorer come mid January;Fields has been good defensively but needs to score more..Hall hopefully has improved his skills off the dribble..Maymon seems lost in the mix.Strong forward player will help Williams improve in the post.In the coming games watch to see how good we pass on back door cuts;transition and against zone defense;this will show us if the team is building chemistry..Goins ballhandling is also a key;He was good against UTC but they were lost on defense..We should make it to New York and games against Wake or Villanova will be a great test to see if we're ready for big time games

What's with all the double-periods [..]?

I've never texted—is that a texting thing? (Or did someone spill Coke on the bottom row of your keyboard last month?)

I know three periods is an "ellipsis"... or a hockey game.

Mule_Days_King writes:

in response to JDL211:

Bleacher Report ranks your coach 24th nationally and 3rd in the SEC conference.

The "Who Gives a Damn" Report ranks your post as #1.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

WHOA!!!! Yeah Vols!

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