Game preview: UT vs. Memphis
It's a rivalry with all of the necessary ingredients: prominence, bragging rights, and of course, animosity.
'We just don't like Memphis,'' Tennessee senior point guard Melvin Goins said Tuesday. 'We know we have to be ready to play, because it's going to be a dogfight.
'It's just a big-time rivalry for our team, and I know our fans don't care too much for them.''
Memphis coach Josh Pastner, whose roster is filled with players the Vols fruitlessly recruited, understands.
"I know Tennessee will be fired up, and we'll be fired up,'' Pastner said. "It should be a good one for TV and the fans.''
The Vols (9-4) host the 21st-ranked Tigers (11-2) at 9 p.m. today in Thompson-Boling Arena (TV: ESPN2).
"A lot of guys on their roster could have come to Tennessee but chose Memphis,'' said UT coach Bruce Pearl, who's 3-2 in his meetings against the Tigers. "Our guys know that, and so there are some bragging rights on the line.''
Both teams are long, athletic and like to get up and down the floor, but Pearl believes the game ultimately will be decided by execution in the half court.
"Some of the things they are good at are the things that have been ailing us,'' Pearl said, referring to Memphis' lightning-quick point guard Joe Jackson. "(Jackson) is very fast with the basketball, and it will be a great matchup for Melvin (Goins) and Trae (Golden), our point guards.''
The Tigers are best known for the dribble-drive offense installed by former Memphis coach and current Kentucky coach John Calipari.
Pastner explained Tuesday that's something Memphis has gotten away from.
"After the Kansas game (an 81-68 loss), we kind of scrapped some stuff ... and changed some things offensively,'' Pastner said. "Each game, as we've moved forward, we have gotten better offensively.
"The kind of student athletes we have, the more they have to think, they are going to be slower on their feet. I like to keep things simple and not overcomplicate things."
Pearl said that doesn't make Memphis any less difficult to defend.
Josh Pastner talks about Memphis-UT game
"It's not complicated,'' Pearl said, "but it's very well thought out.''
The Vols' focus has been on their perimeter defense, where UT has proved susceptible to high ball screens.
Pearl has evaluated his personnel to find the best defenders after the Vols' 91-78 loss to Charleston on Friday, and changes in the 10-man rotation are pending.
The Tigers average 80.8 points per game and can score in numerous ways.
"They can shoot the ball from 3, or create off the dribble,'' Pearl said. "Defensively, they'll put a different kind of pressure on us with their long and athletic players - they can really extend.''
Pastner has his concerns about tonight's game, too.
"We're very young; about 60 percent of our minutes right now are played by freshmen,'' said Pastner, whose freshman signing class was ranked No. 1 by various scouting services last spring. "This is our first true road test, and it will be good to see how our young guys react in a hostile road test.''
UT junior Cameron Tatum said the Vols understand the ramifications of the rivalry.
"This is a key-win type of game for us and our fans, like Florida and Kentucky,'' Tatum said. "There's a lot of hatred and competitiveness, but also a kind of respect.
"We know how close the past games have been, and we know it's bragging rights for the state,'' he said. "Since Bruce Pearl has been here, he's owned the state.''
State Champ?: Pearl is 27-6 against in-state opponents and has played every Division I in-state opponent with the exception of Tennessee State, which declined an invitation three years ago.
The Vols' only losses to in-state teams in Pearl's 6 1/2-year tenure in Knoxville are to Memphis and Vanderbilt (UT owns a 6-4 series advantage).
The average scoring margin between the Vols and Tigers in their past three meetings is 4.3 points.