UT must guard its yard

Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl regularly preaches the importance of winning on your home floor - "guarding your yard," as he calls it. Lately, though, his sermon has been falling on deaf ears.

After dropping just two non-conference home games during Pearl's first five years at the helm, the Basketball Vols already have dropped three in 2010-11. That total might move to four tonight, when No. 21 Memphis (11-2) visits a vulnerable Vol team (9-4) that has lost four of its past six games. Tipoff is set for 9 o'clock at Thompson-Boling Arena, with TV coverage provided by ESPN2.

For what it's worth, the Vols and Tigers have one common opponent. Memphis beat UT Martin 102-80 on Nov. 23. Tennessee edged the Skyhawks 68-62 last week.

Although the Vol-Tiger rivalry isn't nearly as heated since John Calipari left Memphis to take the reins at Kentucky, successor Josh Pastner has the Tigers playing solid basketball.

"Memphis is quick; they're athletic," Pearl said. "They are young but they're extremely talented. The roster is loaded. They get to the rim very, very well. They're terrific one-on-one players, and they're hard to guard. They've got good depth, and some of the things they do are some of the things we've struggled against."

Although Tennessee has allowed opponents to shoot 50 percent or better in seven of the past 12 halves of basketball, Pearl believes the Vol defense will be better tonight. How much better remains to be seen, of course.

"Whether or not we can stop them one on one man to man will be an issue," Pearl said.

The Tigers are expected to start three freshman guards - Will Barton (12.8 points, 3.0 assists per game), Chris Crawford (9.0 points, 3.2 assists) and Joe Jackson (10.8 points, 4.3 assists). The other starters project to be 6-9, 245-pound senior Will Coleman (6.5 points, 4.2 rebounds) and 6-9, 210-pound junior Wesley Witherspoon (12.5 points, 5.2 rebounds).

Tennessee won last year's game at Memphis 66-59 but both teams have undergone radical roster overhauls since then. Not one Tiger who started last seasons' game is still around and only three reserves who played in last year's game are on the 2010-11 Memphis roster.

"Often-times I'll start with the (previous year's) game," Pearl said of his scouting preparation. "There wasn't any reason to start with that game because they're so new and we're so new."

NOTES: The last five games in the UT-Memphis series have gone to the team that won the backboard battle.... Pearl says he'll cut his rotation from 12 to 10 players tonight but will not say which two players are being demoted.... The Tigers' roster features seven players from Tennessee, two of whom start (Memphis natives Jackson and Crawford). The Vols have five Tennesseans on their roster, none of whom start.... Tennessee and Memphis are among six teams who have reached the NCAA Sweet 16 three of the past four seasons. The others are North Carolina, Kansas, Michigan State and Xavier.... The road team has prevailed in the past three UT-Memphis meetings. The Vols won 66-62 at Memphis in February of 2008, lost 54-52 at Knoxville in January of 2009 and won 66-59 at Memphis in December of 2009.

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