Pressing concern

Basketball fans who tune in to CBS-TV at 2:45 this afternoon expecting to see NCAA Tournament action between Tennessee and Long Beach State might witness an episode of "Meet the Press" instead.

The press, of course, is the key element in every game the Vols play. When their fullcourt pressure works, they force turnovers and get easy transition baskets. When it doesn't work, they give up easy baskets.

So, how will Long Beach State respond to the vaunted Volunteer press? No one knows. That's because no one has pressed the 49ers this year. Southern Cal (79-61), UCLA (88-58) and Temple (74-49) beat them handily without resorting to fullcourt pressure. The other teams on the schedule generally disdained the press because Long Beach's lineup is tailor-made to beat it.

Beating the press requires two things – poise and good ball-handling. The 49ers start five seniors, so they have plenty of poise. They also start three guards, so their ball-handling is more than adequate.

Even so, Tennessee has no choice but to press today. Its half-court offense and half-court defense are mediocre. Thus, the best way for the Vols to prevent baskets is to force turnovers, and the best way for the Vols to make baskets is to get them in transition AFTER turnovers.

There's a problem, however: Long Beach doesn't make many mistakes. The 49ers committed just five turnovers in a Feb. 3 game against Pacific and committed just seven in last Saturday night's 94-83 defeat of Cal-Poly in the Big West Conference tournament's title game.

Because Long Beach does such a great job of protecting the ball, Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl hints that his team may not press quite as much as usual today.

"I don't think anybody's pressed them successfully," he said earlier this week.

After watching a bunch of Long Beach game film, Pearl has a vague idea of how the opponent will try to handle Tennessee's full-court pressure. A few of the 49ers' victims pressed them during the final minutes in an effort to overcome deficits.

"People have pressed them at the end of games," the Vol coach conceded, "so I have an idea of what they're going to do against pressure. But they're a difficult team to press because they don't turn it over. And they have two point guards in (Kejuan) Johnson and (Kevin) Houston."

Still, it's a safe bet that Johnson and Houston have never faced the kind of defensive intensity Tennessee will throw at them this afternoon in Columbus. So, with the TV cameras rolling, they'd better be ready to "Meet the Press."

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