Tonight's meeting should be more along of the lines of 111-106 than 11-6. The Vols scored 106 points in their exhibition opener and 124 in their exhibition finale, an average of 115 per game. Of course, California-Pennsylvania and Lincoln Memorial University – a pair of Div. II teams – were in no way comparable to the Temple team Tennessee will host tonight at 7:30 in newly remodeled Thompson-Boling Arena.
"It's obviously going to be a much more physical game," Vol coach Bruce Pearl said. "That's my biggest concern: There's been nothing I could do in the preseason to get us ready for Temple, in terms of what we're going to see, other than playing against ourselves. And that's hard."
Tennessee opens the 2007-08 season with the highest preseason ranking (7th) in school history. The Vols return eight of the top nine players from last year's team that went 24-11 and reached the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16.
Tennessee played exceptionally well in preseason, except for a 19-of-34 performance from the free-throw line in Game 2.
"Obviously, we're going to have to step up," Pearl said. "We're going to be challenged. It'll be a closer game, either way. If we're not going to shoot free throws in a blowout, what kind of free throws are we going to shoot when there's a little pressure on us?"
Temple features the Atlantic 10's top two returning scorers in 6-5 guards Dionte Christmas (20.0 points per game) and Mark Tyndale (19.4 ppg). The other starters are 7-0, 220-pound junior Sergio Olmos (2.8 ppg), 6-4 junior point guard Semaj Inge (4.5 ppg) and 6-9, 225-pound freshman forward Lavoy Allen.
"They're a good team," Pearl said. "They're picked in the Middle of the Atlantic 10, which puts them on the bubble of being an NCAA Tournament-caliber team."
Historically, teams open their home schedule with a mediocre foe they can beat handily. That is not the case this time.
"We wanted an attractive opponent to open up this building," Pearl explained. "I thought our fans deserve it and our administration deserve it for doing what they did for us (renovations at TBA and construction of a practice facility)."
There was some preseason conjecture that 6-6 freshman Cameron Tatum might be redshirted because the Vols have veteran wings in seniors Lofton and JaJuan Smith, junior J.P. Prince and sophomore Josh Tabb. The redshirt plans have been scrapped, however, and Tatum will see action tonight.
"Cameron's in the rotation," Pearl said. "He's got a nose for the ball and he can score. And he takes coaching. Coach (Steve) Forbes is always in his ear, and Cameron is like a sponge, hungry for it. That wasn't his deal coming in.
"He has really taken to coaching, which is wonderful to see from a freshman. A lot of times when you've got something to say they've got something to say back. But Cameron's a sponge."