Hoop Vols hit prime time

Like the cast of Saturday Night Live, Tennessee's basketball players have been the "Not Ready For Prime Time Players" in recent years. Their inability to win games and arouse interest kept them off prime-time television the past few seasons.

That's about to change, however. The 2006-07 Vols will make at least 10 appearances on national TV – most in school history - in the season ahead. The previous high of seven occurred in 2000-01, when the Vols were coming off a school record-26 wins and an SEC East title in 1999-2000.

This time the Vols are coming off a 22-8 record and SEC East title in 2005-06. More importantly, the Vols are playing an exciting brand of basketball under new head coach Bruce Pearl that is more inclined to put fans in their seats and put viewers in front of their TV screens.

Tennessee will show up at least seven times on ESPN, twice on CBS and once on ABC. In addition, Lincoln Financial Sports (formerly Jefferson Pilot) will televise six UT games on a regional basis.

The 2006-07 schedule should provide several prime-time caliber matchups. The Vols face defending national champ Florida twice (home and away) and Final Four semifinalist LSU once (in Knoxville). Tennessee also hosts Elite Eight teams Texas and Memphis. All told, 13 teams who saw post-season action last March are on the slate.

Tennessee opens 2006-07 play in the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament. The Vols meet Fordham in Round 1 at Nashville's Gaylord Entertainment Center. Belmont and UNC-Wilmington play on the same bill, with the first-round winners meeting the next night at the same site.

If the Vols win twice in Nashville, they will advance to the NIT semifinals, scheduled Nov. 22 and 24 at New York's Madison Square.

"We are trying to become a perennial top-25 program," Pearl said in a statement released by the school. "We are trying to do in men's basketball what we do in all sports at Tennessee, and that is compete for championships. In order to do that, you have to play the best. The schedule may be a little too tough for this young team but it is where we want to go."

The Vols will play 16 games at Thompson-Boling Arena and four more in Nashville. In addition to the two NIT games, the Vols will meet Oklahoma State (Dec. 18) at the Gaylord Center and will face Vanderbilt (Jan. 10) at Memorial Gym in Nashville.

Season ticket renewals will be in the mail this week. Non season-ticket holders may order tickets by visiting the web site UTsports.com or by calling the Vol Ticket Office at (865) 656-1200.

In an attempt to bring more fans to the games, the Vols are offering a Family Plan for tickets in section 312 at $80 per season ticket ($5 per game, maximum of four). Also, non-renewable season tickets in sections 302-308 have been reduced in price from $178 to $154.

Tickets to single games – $15 each for Texas and Memphis, $8 each for all other non-conference games – go on sale in October.

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