Hot shooter in Hotlanta

With a baby face protruding from a 6-0, 184-pound frame, Rotnei Clarke looks like he should be bagging groceries instead of bagging 3-pointers. But looks can be deceiving. Just ask the Vanderbilt Commodores.

Clarke almost single-handedly beat Vandy Jan. 29 in Nashville by posting the hottest shooting exhibition of the 2011 SEC season. He hit 12 of 16 field-goal tries, including 6 of 8 attempts beyond the 3-point arc. He also drained 6 of 7 foul shots en route to 36 points - the SEC high this season - as the Razorbacks stunned the 19th-ranked Commodores 89-78.

Although that was his best game of the year by far, it wasn't Clarke's only quality outing. He scored 26 in an upset of Kentucky and is averaging 15.1 points per game, while shooting 44.4 percent from 3. He has been even hotter in SEC play, averaging 16.0 points and shooting 47.4 percent from behind the arc in league games only.

A final testament to Clarke's shooting prowess: Though only a junior, he ranks second all-time among Arkansas players in 3-point baskets with 271.

Given all of the above, Clarke projects to get a lot of attention tonight at 7:30, when Tennessee (18-13) faces the Razorbacks (18-12) on Day 1 of the SEC Tournament at The Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

"Rotnei Clarke is a great player, a great talent," Vol coach Bruce Pearl said this week. "Arkansas has a couple of great wins. They beat Vandy at Vandy and Clarke had 30-something, and they beat Kentucky at home in overtime. They've got some ability, obviously, and some great wins on their resume'."

Tennessee did a pretty good job of denying Clarke the ball in the regular-season meeting at Fayetteville, limiting him to seven shots. Unfortunately for the Vols, he made four of the shots - all 3-pointers - and added three foul shots to finish with 15 points.

While the Big Orange was trying to shut down Clarke on the outside, Arkansas was whipping Tennessee on the inside. Delvon Johnson (6-9, 220) hit 7 of 11 shots en route to 17 points and Marshawn Powell (6-7, 220) made 7 of 12 en route to 14 as the Hogs upset the Vols 68-65.

"Marshawn Powell will be a great matchup with Tobias Harris," Pearl said, referring to the freshman forward who produced 21 points and 11 rebounds in the earlier meeting. "Both put up pretty good numbers the first time they played. They tried to go right at Tobias early in the game with Powell."

While Powell and Harris were offsetting one another, Johnson was dominating Vol post Brian Williams (2 points, 7 rebounds).

"Delvon Johnson bothered us and had one of his better games of the year," Pearl recalled, " so our centers have got to recognize that and be excited about trying to play better because I thought Arkansas had the advantage at the 5 the last time we played."

The Vol coach also sees a good matchup unfolding at the point-guard position.

"(Julysses) Nobles and Melvin Goins are two very tough, physical guards that will be going head to head," Pearl said. "They probably put as much pressure on the ball as anybody."

Because Tennessee failed to earn a first-round bye, the Vols must win four games in four days to claim the SEC Tournament title. That's a moot point, of course, unless they win tonight.

"I told the team the hardest game to win is the first game," Pearl said. "Let's focus on Arkansas, and the assistant coaches will focus on what's coming up down the road."

GAME NOTES: Clarke (15.1) and Powell (11.1) are the only double-figure scorers for Arkansas. Johnson averages 9.4 points and a team-best 7.2 rebounds per game. Nobles averages 8.4 points and a team-best 3.0 assists per game. The other projected starter is 6-3, 198-pound guard Marcus Britt, who averages 5.3 points per game.... Tennessee grabbed 18 offensive rebounds in the Jan. 8 meeting at Fayetteville but offset that by committing 19 turnovers.... Tennessee last entered the SEC Tournament as the East's No. 5 seed in 2005. Oddly enough, Atlanta was the tourney site and Arkansas was the first-round opponent that year, too. The Vols prevailed 65-46 that time.... All of today's Round 1 tournament action will be televised by the SEC Network.

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