Peterson Blocking Out Speculation

FAYETTEVILLE -- Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson is on an island, and he doesn't even want the Professor's coconut radio.

The Vols' season will end after the Southeastern Conference Tournament unless they pull off a miracle to win four games in four days, and the fate of Peterson's four-year tenure in Knoxville will be decided soon after.

Unlike "Survivor" or "The Real Gilligan's Island," Peterson getting voted off his mental island would actually be a good thing in the form of a statement of confidence from Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton.

Short of that, the speculation is swirling as Tennessee closes out its season, but Peterson said he's mostly unaware of it all.

"I'm one of these guys who doesn't read the newspaper," Peterson said. "I don't watch the local news because I don't have time, not because I have anything against it.

"It kind of puts you on an island out there. You're focused on your team, you're focused on having good practices and beating your next opponent so you don't know what's going on out there."

Peterson has similarly cautioned his wife Jan and his players to wear blinders and earmuffs away from the court.

"Things work out for the best," he said. "I told the guys the same thing. 'I want you focused on your team, your teammates and let's get better there.' When the season is over, things will play out the way they need to be."

Tennessee (13-16, 6-10 Southeastern Conference) closed out its regular season with a win against Georgia and as the East Division No. 5 seed will meet West No. 4 Arkansas (18-11, 6-10) in the first round of the conference tournament at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday in Atlanta's Georgia Dome.

Arkansas won the first meeting 70-68 on Feb. 26 in Fayetteville, but the Vols are getting a boost from the return of leading scorer Scooter McFadgon, who missed five games with a bruised kneecap.

McFadgon had 12 points against Georgia and Peterson said having him could have made a difference in two-point losses to Ole Miss, Arkansas and an a 73-61 loss to Kentucky that was close for a while.

Freshman Chris Lofton is leading the Vols in scoring in SEC games with 14.7 per game. He shoots 47 percent from 3-point range and had a career-high 30 against Arkansas.

Senior forward Brandon Crump, who averages 11.4 points and 5.7 rebounds, is another who has been bothered by injuries this season. He missed four games with an injured ankle and turned the other one in their 60-58 loss to Ole Miss on Feb. 19.

Junior point guard C.J. Watson averages 11.8 points and 5.1 assists per game

"We just didn't have another scorer out there," Peterson said. "Lofton is doing a lot, Crump did some and so was C.J. Watson. We need the extra scorer out there. We count on (McFadgon) a lot. It's good to have him back."

Tennessee returned all its starters with some talented newcomers like Lofton and UCLA transfer Andre Patterson (6.1 rebounds per game this season) and had expectations of going to the NCAA Tournament for the first time under Peterson.

Injuries to Crump and McFadgon after a 3-2 start in SEC play and inexplicable home losses to the likes of Nebraska and Tennessee-Chattanooga during the nonconference slate have crippled Tennessee's chances of making even a third straight trip to the NIT.

Having McFadgon and Crump back in the lineup together against Georgia for the first time since the Louisville game Jan. 22 will allow them to go back to things that helped them beat Florida in overtime Jan. 19 in Gainesville.

"On both ends of the floor, there's a lot of things we could improve on," Peterson said. "The injuries have made it a while since we had both of them out there. We're going to work on the things we were doing in January. There are schemes we can look at and adjustments we can make."

Peterson has repeatedly praised his team's continued effort and tough play in practice and games throughout the struggles and is encouraged about its Thursday matchup against Arkansas based on the narrow loss to a hostile crowd in Fayetteville.

"Now our guys won't have to hear that noise if (the Razorbacks) make a run," Peterson said. "It won't be like playing in their arena. I'm just glad we have Scooter back."

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