Pinkins, Vols invade Oxford

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The fact Tennessee assistant Al Pinkins spent the previous three seasons on the Ole Miss staff clearly is an advantage for the Vols heading into tonight’s showdown in Oxford. Whether it’s enough of an advantage to make the Big Orange prevail is another matter.

Naturally, Pinkins downplays his potential impact on tonight’s outcome.

“We’ll be more familiar with Ole Miss than we will some of our other opponents,” Pinkins said this week. “But we still have to go in, execute the game plan and do things we do on a day-to-day basis.”

Asked about his emotions returning to Oxford, where he assisted head coach Andy Kennedy in 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14, Pinkins hedged a bit.

“You know, there’s not really any emotions,” he said. “When we tip it up I think it will be just like a regular game for me.”

Basically, Pinkins wants the Vols (14-11 overall, 6-7 SEC) focusing on a game they really need to win in order to keep their dwindling hopes of an NCAA Tournament bid alive.

“I think our kids understand that, and our coaches understand that,” Pinkins said. “We’ve just got to treat it like a regular game.”

Sometimes a coach leaves a program on bad terms and seeks revenge when he encounters that school as an opponent. This scenario does not apply for Pinkins, who enjoyed his three-year stint in Oxford. He is looking for a victory, not vengeance.

“Not at all,” he said. “A one-point win is great for me.”

Pinkins’ warm feelings toward the Rebels are understandable, given the success he enjoyed during his stint with them. Working primarily with the post players, he helped Terrance Henry earn All-SEC recognition in 2011-12 as Ole Miss won 20 games and earned an NIT bid.

Pinkins developed Murphy Holloway into an all-conference performer and Reginald Buckner into an All-SEC defensive team member in 2012-13, a season that saw the Rebels win the SEC Tournament en route to posting a program-record 27 victories. Buckner stands as Ole Miss’ all-time leader in blocked shots and Holloway is the school’s all-time leader in rebounds.

After three seasons as an assistant to Kennedy, Pinkins knows the Ole Miss coach’s terminology and tendencies. That should work in Tennessee’s favor tonight.

“It helps,” Pinkins conceded. “I’ll be familiar with their play calls, what they run. I’ll be familiar with it and our staff will be familiar with it. But, like I said, we still have to execute, stop them and do what we’re trying to do to win the game.”

Tennessee’s head coach concedes that Pinkins’ familiarity with Ole Miss’ staff and personnel is beneficial but suggests that its impact on tonight’s outcome will be minimal.

“Any time you have some familiarity, certainly it’s beneficial,” Donnie Tyndall said. “To what extent? (Shrug). This time of year most teams are pretty prepared in terms of knowing personnel and knowing calls on offense and defense. It maybe helps a little bit but, for the most part, teams are pretty familiar (with one another) 25 games into the year.”

Most likely, Ole Miss fans will have a greater impact on tonight’s game than Pinkins will. The Rebels (17-8 overall, 8-4 SEC) have been drawing large and vocal crowds to Tad Smith Coliseum this winter.

“It’s a tough place to play in,” Pinkins said. “I would imagine it will be a sold-out crowd. They’ve had a couple of sellouts here recently.”

If nothing else, Pinkins’ familiarity with Ole Miss is giving the Vols extra confidence. They see it as a significant benefit.

“I think it will give us a pretty good advantage,” sophomore wing Robert Hubbs said. “He’s going to know what to expect since he coached under Coach Kennedy. That’s definitely to our advantage.”

Junior forward Derek Reese agrees, noting that Pinkins “knows the ins and outs – what they (Rebels) do on offense and on defense…. You feel more confidence because he was there the past three years, so he would know a lot about their team.”

GAME NOTES: Tennessee is 4-2 in SEC road games, compared to just 2-5 in SEC home games … The Vols have dropped six of their past eight games after a 12-5 start.… The Vols won last season’s meeting 86-70 in Knoxville…. The Rebels are 8-5 in Oxford, including 4-2 in SEC play.… Ole Miss put together a six-game SEC winning streak in late January and early February. It was just the fifth six-game winning streak in program history, second under Andy Kennedy…. Ole Miss ranks second nationally in free-throw percentage at 78.9. Junior guard Stefan Moody leads the SEC and ranks seventh nationally with a 90.4 free-throw percentage. Moody also ranks third among SEC scorers at 17.5 points per game…. The Rebels stand second among SEC teams with a 73.9 points-per-game scoring average…. Tonight’s tipoff is set for 6:30 Central (7:30 Eastern) with TV coverage provided by ESPNU.

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