Tougher test?

Texas carried a top-10 national ranking into last Saturday's game with Tennessee but unranked Oklahoma State may pose bigger problems for the surprising Basketball Vols in Thursday's All-College Classic at Oklahoma City.

Here's why:

1. Oklahoma State is coming off a lopsided win (97-61 over Mercer), whereas Texas was coming off a lopsided loss (97-66 to Duke).

2. Oklahoma State has one of the NCAA's winningest coaches ever in Eddie Sutton (788 victories). Only Texas Tech's Bob Knight (860)has more career wins.

3. Oklahoma State has more avid fans than Texas. Thursday's outing will be more like a road game for the Vols, even though it isn't being played on the Cowboys' home floor in Stillwater.

4. Tennessee was a heavy underdog in Austin. The Vols will be slight favorites in Oklahoma City, so they won't have the same psychological edge they had vs. Texas.

5. Oklahoma State won't take Tennessee lightly, as Texas did.

"Let's keep it in perspective," Vol coach Bruce Pearl said. "From now on, for the rest of the year, nobody is going to take Tennessee lightly, so there is a pretty good bull's-eye on our back."

Whereas the Vols (now 6-0) were able to out-hustle Texas, that isn't likely to happen against the Cowboys. Like Tennessee, they play with a lot of intensity.

"Eddie Sutton and his son, Sean, play smash-mouth basketball," Pearl said. "They set diabolical screens. We've got to fight our way through the screens physically. They like to put pressure on the ball, and so do we. Oklahoma State is athletic, and it is deep. It's an aggressive team."

It's also a well-coached team. Sutton guided OSU to the Big 12 title a year ago. Minus four starters from that team, the 2005-06 Cowboys are off to a so-so 7-3 start. Still, they nearly upset No. 10 Gonzaga last week, losing by two on a last-second bucket.

"Eddie is getting close to his last year in coaching," Pearl said. "It will be an honor for me someday to say I coached against one of the all-time greats."

Although the Vols have played two games outside Knoxville (vs. Murray State in Nashville, vs. Texas in Austin), they haven't played in a truly hostile environment to date. That's about to change.

"One of the things I told our players before the Texas game: You will play a great team, but it's during the holidays, finals are over and Texas is a football state. It won't be that bad an environment," Pearl said. "But in Oklahoma, it will be tougher because their fans are more ravenous. The environment in Oklahoma City is more like what we will see in the SEC."

Thursday's tip-off is set for 6 p.m. EST with television coverage provided by ESPN2.


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