Vols visit tall Tigers

Tennessee's basketball team cracked the national rankings after beating Texas on Dec. 17 but fell out of the top 25 after losing to Oklahoma State five days later. If the Vols could move to 12-1 by beating LSU tonight (8 o'clock EST tip-off in Baton Rouge) they probably would sneak back into the polls.

"We'd love to see that," junior forward Dane Bradshaw said. "It's a nice reward, even if it was only for a couple of days before. It's something we'd like to continue to do, maybe climb up in the polls. But our main thing is getting to the (NCAA) Tournament."

Beating LSU would go a long way toward accomplishing that, as well. With only one non-SEC game remaining on the schedule (Wednesday at Memphis), Tennessee can finish no worse than 9-2 outside the league. Thus, the key to securing an NCAA Tournament bid is compiling a respectable SEC record.

Even if the Vols lose at Memphis, an 8-8 mark in league play would give them a 17-10 regular-season record. A first-round win in the SEC Tournament would guarantee at least an 18-11 mark when the NCAA Selection Committee meets, and that should be good enough to earn the Big Orange its first bid to "The Big Dance" in five years.

LSU shapes up as a very difficult matchup for the Vols, however. The Tigers have an imposing frontline of 6-9, 310-pound Glen "Baby" Davis, 6-9, 215-pound Tyrus Thomas and 6-7, 230-pound Tasmin Mitchell. By comparison, UT's frontline measures 6-10, 250 and 6-5, 215 and 6-4, 200.

Given LSU's superior size, it isn't too surprising that the Tigers rank No. 1 nationally in rebound margin, averaging 14.9 per game more than their opponents. Thomas averages 10.1 rebounds per game, Davis 9.6. Conversely, Tennessee is one of the NCAA's weaker rebounding teams, averaging 3.3 per game FEWER than its opponents.

Like Tennessee, LSU relies on balanced scoring. Davis averages 17.6 points per game, senior guard Darrel Mitchell 17.4, Thomas 13.9 and Tasmin Mitchell 11.7. The other starter, 6-5 guard Garrett Temple, averages 4.1 ppg.

Interestingly enough, all five LSU starters hail from Louisiana. Tasmin Mitchell is from Denham Springs and Darrel Mitchell from St. Martinville. The other three are Baton Rouge products.

Tennessee, 11-1 overall and 2-0 in SEC play, is coming off an 89-76 homefloor defeat of Georgia. LSU, 9-5 and 1-0, is coming off a 63-58 road win at Arkansas.

Don't be fooled by the Tigers' record. Their five losses have come by a combined 11 points.

Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. EST with television coverage provided by Fox Sports Net.


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