Pearl reaches for crying towel

As the bottom team in the Associated Press top 25, the Tennessee Volunteers will have less pressure on them in Thursday night's NCAA Sweet 16 matchup with the Ohio State Buckeyes, the top team in the AP top 25.

That's where the Vols' advantages end, however.

The Buckeyes (32-3) are riding a 19-game winning streak. They have had an extra day of rest. They had a chance to scout Tennessee (24-10) in last Sunday's defeat of Virginia. They have better players, including 7-foot, 280-pound superstar Greg Oden. They already beat Tennessee once – 68-66 on Jan. 13 – and they've improved significantly since then.

"Offensively, I think they're more comfortable about how, where and when to feed Greg the ball," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. "I also think they're more comfortable with their own individual offensive roles. They've got their rotations down and there's a lot more consistency to their performance.

"Defensively, they can do a lot of different things. Obviously, having Greg around the basket changes things. They've got great length and terrific quickness. They've got at least three or four NBA players on that roster."

Ohio State beat Xavier on Saturday, then spent Sunday resting and scouting the UT-Virginia game. The Buckeyes began preparing for Tennessee on Monday, but the Vols won't open their game preparations until this evening.

As Pearl noted: "Ohio State gets an extra day (to prepare) and they got a chance to watch us in person Sunday, which is another interesting advantage."

Asked if the "interesting advantage" might be a significant advantage, Pearl nodded emphatically.

"I think it's a big factor," he said. "They played Saturday, we played Sunday. They were at our game. I think they've got a lot of advantages."

Grinning smugly, the Vol coach added: "If you want to give me a towel, I'll start crying now."

Pearl emphasized last week that Tennessee needed to reach a Sweet 16 in order to take "the next step" in the development of its program. Now that this mission has been accomplished, what's the new goal?

"Just to keep the same focus," the coach said. "I thought we had a lot of confidence last week because of how prepared we were. You could see it in the hotel, you could see it in the layup lines. We don't want to let the success of last week change us in any way, shape or form.

"We're just happy to still be alive. We want to take advantage of the opportunity. We did when it was a field of 65. Now we're going to try to do it when it's a field of 16."

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