Hoops slate upgraded

There's good news for Vol basketball fans who have grown weary of preconference schedules filled with obscure programs from the Carolinas. New head man Bruce Pearl is taking a step up in class.

Tennessee just announced that it will participate in the O'Reilly All-College Classic double-header, scheduled Dec. 22 at Oklahoma City. The Vols' opponent will be Oklahoma State, coached by former Kentucky head man Eddie Sutton. The Cowboys have been one of college basketball's better teams over the past few years, advancing deep into the NCAA Tournament several times. Oklahoma and West Virginia play the other half of the double-header, which will be televised by ESPN2.

The Vols also are working to finalize plans for a December road game against the University of Texas, another Big XII powerhouse. It's possible the Longhorns will reciprocate by paying a visit to Knoxville in 2006-07.

How significant are these scheduling upgrades? Pretty significant, especially when you consider Tennessee's recent history of playing mostly nondescript foes in its preconference games.

Jerry Green's preconference games included the likes of Winthrop, UNC-Asheville, Appalachian State and Wofford (1997), Western Carolina and UNC Greensboro (1998), Elon, UNC-Asheville and Long Island (1999), and UNC-Asheville again (2000).

Tennessee's preconference slates under Buzz Peterson were no better. They featured many of the same cast members -- Appalachian State and Radford (2001), Gardner-Webb, VMI, Charleston Southern and Western Carolina (2002), Wofford, The Citadel and UNC-Asheville (2003), Wofford, Alabama State, Belmont, Campbell and Coastal Carolina (2004).

And school officials wondered why Thompson-Boling Arena was virtually empty in November and December each year ...

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