Life on the road

The University of Tennessee's basketball game against fifth-ranked Ohio State University this afternoon in Columbus should be kind of like driving the German Autobon. It's the ultimate road test.

Although the 16th-ranked Vols have played seven games away from Thompson-Boling Arena this season, none of those experiences could match what lies in store today.

"This will be the most hostile crowd," UT head man Bruce Pearl said earlier this week. "This will be a tougher venue than Vanderbilt was. There will only be about 25 people in there (Value City Arena) wearing orange."

Tennessee has played four games before hostile crowds to date, losing three. The Vols lost to Butler (56-44) and North Carolina (101-87) in the NIT Tipoff Tournament at New York City, then lost at Vanderbilt (82-81) Wednesday night.

"Butler and North Carolina were almost like road games," Pearl said. "Everybody wanted Butler in New York City and North Carolina is like the Yankees; they (fans) travel. It was a completely hostile crowd in New York City."

Tennessee's only victory in front of a hostile crowd occurred Nov, 27, when the Vols won 77-67 at Louisiana-Lafayette.

"Louisiana Lafayette was the first what you'd call ‘true' road game," Pearl said. "They're a Sun Belt team, and we took care of business."

The Vols played a couple of NIT Tipoff games at Nashville's Gaylord Entertainment Center Nov. 13 and 14 – beating Fordham (78-71) and UNC-Wilmington (87-75) – but the crowds were predominantly pro-UT crowd each time. They beat Oklahoma State (79-77) at the same venue, again before a partisan Vol crowd.

The closest the Vols have come to a big-time road test was Wednesday's game at Vanderbilt's Memorial Gymnasium. Even then, Pearl noted that "there were enough Tennessee fans in there that, when we made our runs, you could hear them."

Vol fans are unlikely to be heard today in Columbus. Talent-rich Ohio State is 13-3 has a prohibitive home-court advantage at Value City Arena. The Buckeyes also have an advantage in raw talent.

"I'm excited about playing Ohio State because they're one of the best teams in the country," Pearl said. "They could be in the Final Four. It's where we want our program to be."

Three of Ohio State's freshmen were McDonald's High School All-Americans last year. Greg Oden, a 7-foot, 280-pound center, is averaging 13.9 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. Mike Conley, a 6-1 point guard, is averaging 9.0 points and 6.6 assists per game. Jamar Butler, a 6-2 wing guard, is averaging 8.0 points and 4.2 assists per game. All three start for the Buckeyes.

Another freshman, 6-5 Daequan Cook, didn't make the McDonald's A-A team last year or OSU's starting lineup this year but he's the Buckeyes' leading scorer at 14.8 points per game.

"Our freshmen have played against some great freshman classes – Texas, Memphis, North Carolina," Pearl noted. "And now Ohio State.

Still, the Vol coach figures his rookies have no reason to be in awe.

"I'm awfully proud of our freshmen," he said.

Of course, they haven't been tested on the German Autobon just yet.

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