Preparation X

Preparation H is an ointment that helps soothe a pain in the butt. Then there's Preparation X, which IS a pain in the butt.

What is Preparation X? It is the act of preparing for Team X, a mystery foe that is yet to be determined. That's the task that faced the Tennessee Basketball Vols this week. They're preparing to play Friday at 1 (EST) in the SEC Tournament at Nashville's Gaylord Entertainment Center. They just don't know WHO they're preparing for. That will be determined by the outcome of the South Carolina-Mississippi State game later today.

So how does a team go about preparing for a game with an opponent to be named later?

"I'm preparing for both of them," Vol coach Bruce Pearl said. "I'm watching tape on both teams. We're not showing the team any tape this week because I don't think there's any sense in them watching it until we figure out who it is we'll be playing."

Tennessee's players and coaches will attend today's South Carolina-Mississippi State game as a group. Shortly thereafter, one of the UT assistants will deliver a scouting report on the winner. Tony Jones will handle the job if State wins; Scott Edgar will do the honors if Carolina wins.

The Vols' Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday workouts were pretty basic, since they had no idea which of the two teams they'd be facing. Pearl said he "put in some things we think will work against both," but conceded that the Bulldogs and Gamecocks are generally different in their style of play.

"They are," Pearl conceded. "But you work on what we need to work on to get better. We went up against a little bit of zone and a little bit of man because we could see both."

Tennessee beat South Carolina twice this year, prevailing 76-69 in Columbia and 81-65 in Knoxville. The Vols faced Mississippi State once, romping 88-65 in Starkville. So, whichever team UT faces on Friday is going to be seeking revenge.

"We understand what the challenge is going to be," Pearl said. "South Carolina could've beat us twice. And I think we played one of our better games against Mississippi State."

If the Vols win Friday afternoon, they'll have less than 24 hours to prepare for a 1 p.m. Saturday tip-off against another Team X. It could be Alabama. It could be Kentucky. It could be Ole Miss. Those three teams, along with Mississippi State, South Carolina and UT, comprise the upper half of the bracket.

"We're in a tournament with five other teams to try to get to the finals," Pearl noted. "We've got advance scouts on Alabama, Kentucky and Ole Miss, so we're prepared. The coaching staff will prepare for those five teams. If we're able to advance to the championship game (against a foe from the lower bracket), whoever had that scout will get it together in a short period of time."

Talk about a pain in the butt …

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