Tough sledding

LSU (10-5 overall, 2-0 in league play) appears to be the best team in the SEC West. Florida (15-0, 3-0) appears to be the best team in the SEC East. So, what was Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl thinking when he scheduled a quality Memphis program in between these two SEC powers?

Obviously, Pearl was thinking the same thing he's always thinking: What can he do to build a brighter future for UT basketball? One answer is to establish home-and-home series with high-profile programs that will draw fans and impress the NCAA Selection Committee … programs like the Memphis Tigers.

"I think it is great for fans, players and people in the state," Pearl said. "I'm glad we are playing, but not happy about playing in January. To get the series started, I agreed to play this one time in January. But never again."

The Tigers are 14-2 and ranked No. 4 nationally. Playing them in a phone booth would be difficult. Playing them at FedEx Forum, their home arena, will be an enormous challenge.

"They're deep, they're talented, they play a good schedule and they are ranked No. 4," Pearl noted. "It's a big game for them because they are in Conference USA and not in the SEC. Their talent, their depth, their athleticism and playing at home are all advantages for Memphis."

Memphis is one of three high-profile non-conference foes the Vols are playing this season. The Big Orange shocked No. 6 Texas 95-78 on Dec. 17, then lost 79-63 to Oklahoma State on Dec. 22. Playing such salty out-of-league foes is somewhat risky but it is a risk that could pay dividends if Tennessee can get "on the bubble" for an NCAA Tournament bid by selection time in March.

"The reason our RPI is eighth in the country is because we play Memphis, Oklahoma State, Texas and other highly-regarded non-conference teams," Pearl said. "We've played a challenging schedule that if we are near the bubble at the end the committee will consider that factor."

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