Survive And Advance

Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey and Tennessee bench boss Bruce Pearl talk about their team's upcoming match-up Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. in the opening round of the SEC Tournament in Atlanta.

ATLANTA – Neither one of the coaches involved in this Thursday night's Arkansas-Tennessee game has had the results they hoped for this season.

In fact, both had teams lost a chance in the final week to finish second in their respective divisions and take an extra day off before playing in the SEC Tournament.

But Thursday night's 6:30 p.m. (CST) match-up in the opening round of the event at the Georgia Dome does at least offer some new life for the Razorbacks (18-12, 7-9) and Vols (18-13, 8-8).

"We are playing a very good team, very well-coached, tremendous depth, athletic," Arkansa head coach John Pelphrey said. "It will be a big, big challenge for our basketball team to go out and compete with them.

"It is the SEC Tournament and I am sure we are looking forward to it as I am sure everybody else is," Pelphrey added. "Obviously we know we have our hands full with the Volunteers."

Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl was suspended the first eight games of SEC season for recruiting violations and thus missed Arkansas' 68-65 win over the Vols back on Jan. 8.

"We haven't seen Arkansas since the first game of the (conference) season so both teams so both teams have obviously changed a great deal," Pearl said. "Both teams have had some great wins and some tough losses. They have been better at home and we have been better on the road."

The rest of Thursday's opening round games have Auburn (11-19, 4-12) and Georgia (20-9, 10-7) meeting at noon, South Carolina (14-15, 5-11) and Ole Miss (19-12, 7-9) meeting at 2:30 and LSU (11-20, 3-13) and Vanderbilt (21-9, 9-7) scheduled for a 9 p.m. start.

Florida (24-6, 13-3) – who plays the winner of the Arkansas-Tennessee game – has a first-round bye along with Kentucky (22-8, 10-6), Alabama (20-10, 12-4) and Mississippi State (17-13, 9-7).

"I think the (Arkansas) guys will be very ready to go," Pelphrey said. "…They just want to play."

Arkansas has to win four games at the SEC Tournament to get into the NCAA Tournament, but Pelphrey's eyes are only on Thursday.

"We can't win four until we win one," Pelphrey said.

Tennessee appears in pretty good shape to get into the Big Dance.

"I know the map says we are pretty good shape because of our strength of schedule, our RPI, the number of wins we have against the Top 100," Pearl said. "We would be a hard team to seed because we have had some disappointing losses, some closes losses and some injuries.

"I know the more you win the better position you put yourself in so we are trying to win every game we need to win to help our chances," Pearl added.

Arkansas had won four of five games before losing to Mississippi State and Ole Miss last week.

"We're playing good basketball," Pelphrey said. " Last week was tough on us. I didn't think we played poorly. We shot the ball well. We had some costly turnovers on us at times."

"I still think we are playing pretty well," Pelphrey said. "We just haven't been able to win a couple games."

Pearl expects to see plenty of Rotnei Clarke and also had good things to say about fellow Razorbacks Marshawn Powell, Delvon Johnson and Julysess Nobles.

"Obviously it starts with Rotnei Clarke," Pearl said. "He is a key, key guy for them and a great player in the SEC. He is just a tremendous dimension and a tremendous role model, a great work ethic.

"Powell is a tough match-up and it will be a great match-up between he and (Tennessee freshman forward) Tobias Harris," Pearl said. "Johnson is a factor in blocking shots and a had a great game against us last time.

"(Tennessee guard) Melvin Goins and Nobles are probably two guards that are very similar to one another – two very tough defenders," Pearl said. "So there will be some very interesting match-ups."

Pelphrey is a big fan of Harris, a 6-8, 226-pound forward who had 18 points in his team's 64-58 loss to visiting Kentucky.

"Tobias Harris is as good a power forward-small forward combo-type guy that there is in our league," Pelphrey said. "He is a really, really difficult match-up."


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