High-speed chess

Because Tennessee and Long Beach State have never faced one another, Vol head coach Bruce Pearl says Friday's meeting in Round 1 of the NCAA South Regional at Columbus, Ohio will be something of a "chess match."

If so, it might be the fastest chess match every played. Long Beach State ranks among the national leaders in scoring at 80.3 points per game this season. Tennessee is just half a free throw back at 79.7. The two teams didn't score all of those points walking the ball up the floor, so Friday's game should be a real shootout.

"This will be an up-tempo game," Pearl says. "But we don't want to go crazy with the up-tempo against these guys because it makes them so much better."

Tennessee's head man is looking forward to the game, partly because the 49ers play a similarly fast-paced style and partly because they provide a fresh set of faces.

"It's always fun, as far as coaching, to have the chess match against someone you've not played before," Pearl said. "When we're playing in conference, we know what they (opponents) are going to do. We know all of their calls; they know all of ours. There's not a lot of guesswork."

There will be plenty of guesswork Friday, however. All the Vols and 49ers know about one another is what they can pick up from film study between now and Friday afternoon. Thus, the team that assembles the best scouting report has a big advantage.

"I feel I can sometimes help my team more in this situation," Pearl said, adding: "I think both teams will be successful offensively."

Tennessee is a very young team whose top six features three freshmen, two juniors and a senior. Conversely, Long Beach's top six players are all seniors.

"They're 20-0 when they have a lead and five minutes to go," Pearl noted. "That speaks to their experience."

Although Tennessee and Long Beach have never met, the Vols have faced an opponent whose offensive scheme is similar to the 49ers'.

"They're running Memphis' system," Pearl said. "The only difference is, they shoot it better than Memphis. They're not as big and they're not quite as talented as Memphis but it (scheme) is very similar."

That should bode well for Tennessee, which spanked Memphis 76-58 back on Dec. 6 in Knoxville. Of course, the Tigers made just 5 of 28 shots from 3-point range that afternoon.

"If you recall, we had a lot of success against Memphis but they missed a lot of shots," Pearl said. "They missed a lot of outside shots that these guys (49ers) have been making. When you look at the shooting percentages of Aaron Nixon, Kejuan Johnson, Sterling Byrd and Kevin Houston, those guys can really shoot it."

He has a point. Houston shoots 41.5 percent from 3-point range, Nixon 38.7, Johnson 36.7 and Byrd 36.3.

Like Tennessee, Long Beach State plays Small Ball. The 49ers start two 6-6 players and three guards. So, if the Vols shoot well and play good perimeter defense, they should prevail.

Or, as Pearl puts it: "If we play well, we'll beat this basketball team. If we don't play well, we won't."


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