Pearl: Compete or get off the court
Tennessee and Memphis have been the headline acts in our state the past five men’s basketball seasons.
This might be the year that changes.
Sitting roughly halfway in between the Vols in the hills and Tigers on the river, Vanderbilt has been overshadowed but nevertheless successful.
Every year since Bruce Pearl arrived at Tennessee in 2005-06, the Vols have one-upped the Commodores.
If the Commodores won 26, UT won 31. If Vandy won 24, the Vols won 28.
If Vandy fell back to 19, the Vols fell back to 21, still enough to sneak into the NCAA bracket.
Pearl is 7-4 against Stallings. That’s counting the 67-64 win this year by Tony Jones when Pearl was suspended.
But when the two old rivals meet tonight in Nashville, momentum will be sitting at the Commodores’ end of Memorial Gym.
Tennessee has lost four of its past five games. Vanderbilt is riding a five-game winning streak.
“We feel good about the way we’re playing right now,’’ Stallings said Monday.
If you can find anyone who feels good about the way Tennessee is playing right now, let me know.
Pearl noted Monday that Vanderbilt’s offense has “so many dimensions” you have to account for.
Vanderbilt’s best dimension is sophomore guard John Jenkins, who in SEC play is averaging a league-best 22.2 points and is hitting 45.5 percent of his 3-point tries and 92.1 percent of his free throws.
Jenkins, who is from Middle Tennessee, would have been a worthy successor to Chris Lofton. Heaven knows UT needs a shooter.
Unlike Lofton, Jenkins was no sleeper on the recruiting circuit in 2009. He was ranked No. 15 nationally by rivals.com
“One of the things John looked at,’’ said Pearl, “was we had a young Scotty Hopson and they’re both shooting guards.
“(Vandy) just had a real opportunity for him to come in and play. And they did a good job of locking him up. We tried, but he was very much a Vanderbilt commitment.’’
But to shed further light on the current state of affairs go back one more recruiting class to 2008.
When the ‘08 rankings came in, Tennessee was No. 7 nationally and Vandy was No. 14. Advantage Vols.
However, in 2011 when the ‘08 recruits are juniors, advantage Vanderbilt.
UT’s 2008 class consisted of Hopson, Emmanuel Negedu, Renaldo Woolridge, Phillip Jurick, Bobby Maze and Daniel West.
Hopson was ranked No. 5 in the class and is, at the moment, playing like it.
Maze, a juco transfer, was a two-year contributor who helped the Vols reach the Elite Eight last March. He’s gone, though.
A cardiac issue prevented Negedu (No. 40) from realizing his potential. Woolridge (No. 53) has been tethered to the bench this season.
Jurick (No. 68) left after one invisible year. West never got eligible.
You’ll find Vandy’s 2008 class intact on the court tonight.
Jeffery Taylor (No. 52) starts at small forward, averages 14.2 points and is a terrific defender.
Brad Tinsley (No. 94) has done a nice job at point guard, averaging 10.8 points.
Lance Goulbourne (No. 72) and Steve Tchiengang (No. 87) share the power forward position, combining for 12 points and 10.1 rebounds.
To review, UT has Hopson but it’s four-on-one.
And that is one big reason why momentum is sitting on Vandy’s end of the floor tonight.
Mike Strange may be reached at email@example.com or 865-342-6276. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike 44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.