Both better, but who's best?

Ohio State and Tennessee started two freshmen each when the Buckeyes edged the Volunteers 68-66 Jan. 13 at Columbus, so it's only natural that each team has matured and improved significantly since then.

With the rematch scheduled Thursday night at 8:57 Central time in the NCAA Sweet 16 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, the key will be: Which team has matured and improved the most?

"It's going to be a great game in San Antonio," Vol All-American Chris Lofton said following Sunday's 77-74 defeat of Virginia. "I feel like both teams have gotten better, so it should be an interesting matchup down there."

Senior Dane Bradshaw touched on the same theme.

"We feel like we've gotten better," he said, "but the entire country knows how their young players have started to work better as a team. They're definitely better than they were in January, so we look forward to the matchup."

Ditto for sophomore Ryan Childress, who sparked UT off the bench with 10 points and 8 rebounds vs. Virginia.

"I think it's a great opportunity," he said. "Both teams have gotten better since we played last time."

Ohio State, the No. 1 seed for the South Region, has an imposing 32-3 record. Tennessee, the region's No. 5 seed, is 24-10. The Vols are decided underdogs, so they must get a lot of contributions from a lot of players.

"It's going to be a team effort," Childress said, noting that Ohio State's guards "are tremendous and they've got great guys inside. We've got to pull together as a team and have great communication in order to compete with these guys in the Sweet 16."

The first order of business will be to contain 7-foot, 280-pound Greg Oden, who burned the Vols for 24 points, 15 rebounds and 3 blocked shots in the earlier meeting. He nearly beat Tennessee all by himself.

"When you see the game before and how close it was, we'll have to do a better job of defending Oden," Bradshaw said. "He really killed us in the first half."

That's true. Oden had 16 points and 10 rebounds by intermission last time.

Even with Oden dominating on the inside, Tennessee would've beaten the Buckeyes in January if it hadn't missed the front end of two 1-and-1s in the final 30 seconds. Clearly, the Vols weren't intimidated in the previous meeting, and they seem eager for Thursday night's rematch.

"I think it's going to be real intense," junior guard JaJuan Smith said. "We're in the last 16 teams left, and we're both fighting for our lives. I think you're going to see a real intense game with good defense and everyone crashing the board real hard to stay alive."


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