SEC Lid-lifter

Two teams who had vastly different results in games earlier this week will meet Saturday at Bud Walton Arena when Arkansas (10-3) and Tennessee (10-4) - without suspended head coach Bruce Pearl - battle in a 12:47 p.m. game that will be the SEC opener for both teams.

The Bruce Pearl TV Show will debut Saturday on many fine stations, but there won't be any footage of the Tennessee head coach on the sideline at Arkansas because he won't be there.

Pearl will begin serving an eight-game SEC suspension for NCAA rules violations and misleading investigators as the Razorbacks (10-3) host the Volunteers (10-4) at 12:47 p.m. as both teams open league action.

"I'm just really trying to focus on the players," Pearl said. "One of the biggest things you can do as a coach is be very similar in your preparation, very similar in your practices, whether you're getting ready for an exhibition game, a non-conference game or a conference game. It will be business as usual in getting ready to play Arkansas. The only thing different is I won't be in the arena for the game. We'll be a man down and we'll see how the coaching staff responds, just like when we lose a player to injury and are a man down, and see how the rest of the team responds."

Pearl, who flew to Fayetteville with his team Thursday and conducted practice at Bud Walton Arena on Friday, admits that he is bummed about missing his first game in a 588-game collegiate head coaching career that has spanned 18 years.

"Had a lot of babies born, had enough illness, enough family reasons to miss a game here and there, and I've never missed one," noted Pearl. "For me, I just feel like I'll be letting the team down. I've already let them down."

Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey knows that associate coach Tony Jones will step in for Pearl on game days – although the head coach will still be able to practice his team and help put together the game plan, just not be with them on game day.

"I'm sure if Tennessee had the option of having him there or not having him there they would want him there," Pelphrey said of Pearl. "Obviously he is a great, great coach. But they have great continuity with their staff. They'll know the game plan and what to get done."

Pearl, who will be able to be on the sideline for a non-conference game at UCONN during his suspension, was suspended by SEC commissioner Mike Slive and still may face further sanctions from the NCAA.

The Volunteers – who have won 10 of their last 11 SEC openers and all five under Pearl - raced out to a 7-0 start win quality wins over No. 3 Pittsburgh and No. 7 Villanova before suffering three straight losses to Oakland, at Charlotte and at USC.

Tennessee has rebounded to win three of its last four – the lone loss being a home one to the College of Charleston (91-78) - and is fresh off a 104-84 rout of visiting Memphis on Wednesday.

"We needed that," Pearl said minutes after McRae's dunk sealed the Vols' 104-84 romp over No. 21 Memphis in Thompson-Boling Arena on Wednesday night. "We obviously needed this to fix some of the things that were ailing us."

Pelphrey knows what a challenge his team is facing on Saturday.

"Certainly, it's a very deep, talented basketball team,'' Pelphrey said. "I think they've played a very challenging schedule, obviously coming off an outstanding performance last night. It's going to be a hard-fought basketball game.''

The Vols, who were ahead of the Tigers by as much as 36 on Wednesday, are blessed with talent and length and led by 6-7, 200-pound junior guard Scotty Hopson.

Hopson (16.4) heads up a starting line-up that also includes 6-8 freshman forward Tobias Harris (15.1, 7.1), 6-6 freshman guard Cameron Tatum (10.4), 5-11 senior guard Melvin Goins (8.8) and 6-10, 272-pound senior center Brian Williams (6.3, 7.5).

"Tennessee is certainly a very deep, talented basketball team," Pelphrey said. "I think they have played a very challenging schedule and are coming off an outstanding performance last night. They attack you in transition and they do a tremendous job of offensive rebounding. They have depth, guard play and scoring and last night showed they can shot the 3-point ball really well."

The Vols have actually not be a consistent threat from 3-point range this season, averaging just five made 3-pointers a game before tossing in 12 on Wednesday against Memphis.

"We are last in the conference in 3-point shooting and there have been a lot of years we have near the top of 3-point shooting," Pearl said on Monday's SEC Teleconference. Our system is not the same. We aren't pressing as much because we don't have quickness and whatever offense you are running, it would run a lot more efficiently and be harder to guard if you could shoot the ball a little bit."

Pearl liked what he saw against a Memphis team straying away from home for the first time.

"I thought the guys were physical," Pearl said. "I thought they were aggressive. It helped us that Memphis, playing on the road for the first time, didn't shoot well early."

Playing in its first true road test on Tuesday, Arkansas didn't shoot the ball well or handle it well with 23 turnovers in the loss at Texas.

"Hopefully we're eager to play and to have a chance to get back out there," Pelphrey said. "It's the second part of our season with the conference play starting up and it's a home weekend game here in the SEC. I believe our guys will be excited to get back to the court."

The Razorbacks will send out a starting five that will likely include 6-0 junior guard Rotnei Clarke (14.1), 6-9 senior center Delvon Johnson (9.8, 8.8, second in the nation in blocks per game) and 6-0 junior guard Jeff Peterson (8.4) while the other two spots have been rotated.

"Every night is going to be a dogfight," Clarke said. "Everybody is going to come to play. Nobody is going to overlook anyone. It's the SEC. It's tough to win. You've got to be prepared and do a lot of things right to win. It's important for us to get off on the right foot and start conference right, especially by protecting our home court."

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