Pearl's task

Bruce Pearl faced perhaps the most difficult task of his first two seasons as Tennessee's basketball coach this week. Pearl tends to portray every Vol foe as Final Four material but even he couldn't make Coppin State sound worthy.

The Baltimore-based Eagles, who visit Thompson-Boling Arena for a 4 p.m. tip-off today, stand 0-2 after being outscored 171-110 by Hawaii and Virginia Tech. That means their average score has been 85-55. In addition to losing by 30 points per game, they average losing the backboards by 15 rebounds per game.

There's more: The Eagles were 12-18 last year but even that is deceiving. Coppin State went 12-6 in MEAC play and 0-12 against non-conference foes. In fact, the Eagles have dropped 28 consecutive regular-season games outside their league.

Did I mention their coach is named "Fang" Mitchell?

Like Tennessee, Coppin State starts two forwards and three guards. The Eagles' tallest starters are Robert Pressey and Ethan Kennedy, both 6-7. Pressey averages 3.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. The team leader is 6-2 guard Tywain McKee, who averages 16.0 points and 3.0 assists per game.

Tennessee (3-0) is expected to counter with its usual lineup of 6-8 Duke Crews and 6-4 Dane Bradshaw upfront, with a trio of 6-2 players – JaJuan Smith, Chris Lofton and Ramar Smith in the backcourt. Lofton leads UT's scoring at 17.7 points per game, while JaJuan Smith checks in at 14.3. Crews averages 9.7 points and a team-high 5.0 rebounds per game.

Following today's game, the Vols visit New York's Madison Square Garden, where they'll face Butler on Wednesday. Win or lose, they'll meet either North Carolina or Gonzaga on Friday.

Although Tennessee's inexperience has made the offense a bit disjointed in the early-season games, its defense has been able to pick up the slack. The Vols are forcing an average of 27.7 turnovers per game, well ahead of last year's 18.2 mark.

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