Mike Strange: Celebrity guests don't intimidate Vols

Mike Strange

If the locker room walls could talk. For the third consecutive Saturday, an elite college basketball visitor graces Thompson-Boling Arena.

If you don't consider Florida elite, name someone else has won back-to-back NCAA tournaments lately.

A week ago, Kentucky escaped a close call on what it hopes is the road to hanging an eighth NCAA banner.

Today, Connecticut ventures into Knoxville for the first time. No word on whether the Huskies will wear their 2011 national championship rings.

"When you have the defending national champion come to your house,'' Tennessee's Trae Golden said Friday, "it's an opportunity you have to relish and be ready to step up to the plate and take care of.''

Historically, the Vols have relished such opportunities with some success.

The most recent three defending champs to visit Thompson-Boling went home with a loss. That would be the Gators in 2007 and 2008 and Kentucky in 1999.

Tennessee is 10-15 all time against defending champs. That includes a 2000 NCAA tournament win over Connecticut in Birmingham, Ala., that ended the Huskies' hopes of a repeat.

UT's most recent brush with a reigning champ was more humbling. The Vols got phogged in by Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse three years ago.

As Thompson-Boling celebrates its 25th anniversary season, UConn is a worthy addition to the celebrity guest list.

Kansas arrived two years ago as No. 1 and was treated to a defeat.

Arkansas, Ohio State, Louisville, Georgetown, Marquette, N.C. State, Cincinnati and Wisconsin are former NCAA champs who have tangled with the Vols in Thompson-Boling.

Almost forgot Wyoming. Yep, the Cowboys cut down the nets in 1943.

Syracuse and Michigan State joined the title club after playing the Vols here.

Duke, Villanova and Maryland made NCAA regional visits here in the 1990s.

North Carolina, UCLA and Indiana are blue-bloods — with a combined 21 titles — who have managed to avoid Knoxville during the Thompson-Boling era.

UConn's blood is as blue as anyone's these days. No other program can claim three NCAA titles in the past 13 seasons. Last year's was unexpected.

The Huskies finished 9-9 in the Big East, but then won 11 consecutive postseason games, five in the Big East tournament and six more in the Big Dance.

"I watched all the games,'' said UT's Golden. "I was a huge fan of Kemba.''

To Golden's individual and UT's collective relief, Kemba Walker won't be around today. The NCAA tournament MVP has gone on to the NBA.

But most of the lineup is back. So is the man who made it all happen, Jim Calhoun, 69 years young, and one of only five coaches with three NCAA titles. He also ranks third among active coaches in wins.

The above two categories put him in the club with guys named Wooden, Rupp, Knight, Krzyzewski and Boeheim. He's practically on college basketball's Mount Rushmore.

Calhoun was already a grizzled veteran by the time he recruited a kid named Cuonzo Martin 21 years ago.

"It pretty much came down to Connecticut and Purdue,'' said Martin. "Purdue was closer to home.''

Today Martin tries to deny Calhoun a 868th win by claiming his 70th.

Famously even-keeled, Tennessee's coach can't help but concede today is a little special.

That's not UNC Greensboro in the visitor's locker room.

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

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Comments » 6

tovolny writes:

Not a whole lot of new information here, but the style of this item is top shelf. GOOD JOB Mike. John Adams is eating your heel gravels.

born2ride writes:

Will Bruce Pearl be at the game?

Katphan29 writes:

It must be a slow news day. I don't consider UCONN celebrities, and doubt you UT fans do as well. And, as I said when UT played KY and folks were saying "UT won't back down," I replied "who expects them to?"

Likewise, I don't expect UCONN will intimidate UT. That's silly to even suggest, and I don't know why this theme keeps popping up in UT articles - its division 1 hoop, not wartime where someone is shooting at you - so I wouldn't expect anyone to be intimidated.

Go Vols, I hope you win. The SEC sucks this year, we need a better RPI.

voloffaith writes:

in response to born2ride:

Will Bruce Pearl be at the game?

Doesn't he have a restraining order? A violation of separating from UT that he can't be at basketball games at UT? I Imagine as a basketball he would like to,but probably watch on his big screen at home with his wife.

wigmeister writes:

in response to Katphan29:

It must be a slow news day. I don't consider UCONN celebrities, and doubt you UT fans do as well. And, as I said when UT played KY and folks were saying "UT won't back down," I replied "who expects them to?"

Likewise, I don't expect UCONN will intimidate UT. That's silly to even suggest, and I don't know why this theme keeps popping up in UT articles - its division 1 hoop, not wartime where someone is shooting at you - so I wouldn't expect anyone to be intimidated.

Go Vols, I hope you win. The SEC sucks this year, we need a better RPI.

AMEN!

murrayvol writes:

in response to Katphan29:

It must be a slow news day. I don't consider UCONN celebrities, and doubt you UT fans do as well. And, as I said when UT played KY and folks were saying "UT won't back down," I replied "who expects them to?"

Likewise, I don't expect UCONN will intimidate UT. That's silly to even suggest, and I don't know why this theme keeps popping up in UT articles - its division 1 hoop, not wartime where someone is shooting at you - so I wouldn't expect anyone to be intimidated.

Go Vols, I hope you win. The SEC sucks this year, we need a better RPI.

We did our part and so did Arkie. Go Vols!

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