Vols eye 49ers

If fifth-seeded Tennessee beats 12th-seeded Long Beach State Friday at 2:45 in its NCAA Tournament opener at Columbus, Ohio, the Vols won't have much time to gloat. They'll be back in action less than 46 hours later.

A Friday victory will earn UT a 12:10 Sunday meeting with the winner between No. 4 seed Virginia and No. 13 seed Albany. Because of this quick turnaround, two UT assistants already are breaking down film of Virginia and Albany.

"I will prepare almost exclusively for Long Beach State," head coach Bruce Pearl said this week. "If I get to the point in a day or two where I feel like I have them, I might spend a morning working on the other two teams (Virginia and Albany)."

Pearl and assistant coach Jason Shay are zealously studying the 49ers, while assistants Steve Forbes and Tony Jones are doing advance scouts on Virginia and Albany, respectively.

"Each assistant coach has one of the three teams," Pearl noted, "and they will spend a lot of time preparing for Virginia and Albany, while I work exclusively on Long Beach State with (Shay)."

Based on his early impressions, Pearl sees a lot of his former team, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, in Long Beach State's style of play. UT's head man describes the 49ers as "undersized, very athletic, great one-on-one players.

"It's a dangerous matchup. It's not that physically they will overwhelm us. It's just that they have so much experience (seven seniors) and so many good one-on-one players. We'll have a hard time stopping them, and they'll have a hard time stopping us, as well."

Tennessee's practices so far this week have been brisk and productive. The head man believes preparations for Friday's test have gone quite well.

"They have been good," Pearl said. "We're healthy, and we need to stay healthy. We'll have some contact practices. So far, so good. I feel like we are in great shape."

Tennessee is one of five Southeastern Conference teams in the NCAA Tournament field this year. Florida was the No. 1 seed for the Midwest Region and overall. UT is the No. 5 seed for the South Region. Vanderbilt is the 6 seed and Arkansas the 12 seed in the East Region, while Kentucky is the 8 seed in the West.

"We are about where we belong," Pearl said. "When I learned Florida was the top seed in the tournament, I figured since we had the second-best record in the SEC, we might get a fifth seed.

"We got a five, Vanderbilt got a six, Kentucky was an eight and Arkansas a 12. I think the seeding was fair."

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