Tourney pits David and Goliath

Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl calls today's NCAA Tournament game with Winthrop a "David and Goliath story."

Fair enough. So who's David and who's Goliath?

Based on seedings, No. 2 Tennessee (21-7) will be Goliath and No. 15 Winthrop (23-7) will be David when the teams collide at 2:40 p.m. in Greensboro, N.C. Based on everything else, though, Winthrop seems to qualify as the giant in this confrontation.

Take stature, for instance. The Eagles' front line consists of 6-10 245-pound Craig Bradshaw, 6-8 215-pound Phillip Williams and 6-6, 220-pound James Shuler. UT's front line consists of 6-10 250-pound Major Wingate, 6-7, 220-pound Andre Patterson and 6-4, 200-pound Dane Bradshaw. Winthrop also is bigger at shooting guard, where 6-5 Torrell Martin has three inches on UT's Chris Lofton. Tennessee's only height advantage is at the point, where 6-2 C.J. Watson towers over 5-10 Chris Gaynor.

"They're bigger than we are at the 2, 3, 4 and 5 positions," Pearl said. "And they post it very, very strong. They outrebounded Alabama, outrebounded Auburn, outrebounded Marquette and outrebounded Memphis. It's a big, physical team. It's the David and Goliath story.

"The seeding says one thing but the tale of the tape says another. It's like every other team we've been playing all year long – bigger and more physical – and we've been able to beat them."

Winthrop also has the advantage in NCAA experience. The Eagles have played in six of the past eight Tournaments. Tennessee has played in zero of the last four. All of the Winthrop starters have played in at least one previous Tournament. UT has but one starter who has played in the Tournament, UCLA transfer Patterson.

How important is Tourney experience? Based on his days at Southern Indiana and Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Pearl says it's pretty darned important.

"I can tell you that getting to the Tournament a couple of years ago at Milwaukee and losing in the first round to Notre Dame helped us advance (to the Sweet 16) the second time around," he said. "In 1994, when my Southern Indiana team finished second and lost in the national championship game, it helped us the next year to win the national championship game in 1995.

"We don't have that luxury (NCAA experience) with this group."

Whatever happens today, Tennessee has taken a big step in rebuilding its basketball program. After a four-year absence, the Vols are back in the Big Dance.

"I thought it was great when the field of 65 was announced and Tennessee was participating, playing for a national championship," Pearl said. "It's been a few years since that has happened. That's where we want to take this basketball program, where we're going to be competitive and compete for championships every year."

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