UT hosts Blue Raiders

In two-plus seasons under Bruce Pearl, Tennessee's basketball team has been a lot of things – high-scoring, explosive on offense, pesky on defense, fun to watch and surprisingly successful.

Last Friday, though, the Vols were something new ... boring. They were unfocused and undisciplined, trailing an inferior opponent for most of the first half. They shot 19 percent from 3-point range and 44.7 from the foul line. They lost the backboard battle and allowed a grossly outmanned Prairie View A&M team to stay close. Tennessee's 89-75 victory was pretty hollow.

Perhaps the poor showing was inevitable, though. Much as a team struggles to get up when it has been facing a series of first-rate opponents, a team can struggle to get up when it has been facing a series of second-tier opponents. Seventh-ranked Tennessee certainly has done that in the opening weeks of 2007-08.

Instead of a "Who's who" lineup, the teams the Vols have faced would be more aptly described as a "Who's that?" lineup. It all started with exhibition blowouts of California-Pennsylvania (106-46) and Lincoln Memorial (124-61).

After beating a solid Temple team 80-63 in the regular-season opener, the Vols went back to facing lightweights. They hammered Arkansas-Monticello 101-44, then prepared to host a Prairie View team that had lost 104-48 to Oklahoma State one week earlier.

"We've had so many lower-ranked opponents that I couldn't get them up this time," Pearl said. "We are a work in progress. It was a wake-up call."

After sleepwalking past the Panthers, Tennessee should be wide away tonight against Middle Tennessee. Tipoff is set for 7:30 at Thompson-Boling Arena. The Vols' head coach believes fans can expect to see the Big Orange of old.

"There aren't going to be many opponents the rest of the way that we will have to worry about our guys getting up for," Pearl said. "Prairie View played an inspired game."

Of course, things would've been different if Tennessee had knocked the inspiration out of the Panthers in the opening minutes – as Oklahoma State did seven days before.

Regardless, it will be interesting to see how the Vols respond to their worst performance of the Pearl era when they host Middle Tennessee this evening. The Blue Raiders may not get Tennessee's best effort but the Vols are likely to get the Blue Raiders' best.

"I think they did a lot of things in the off-season to get ready for this game," Pearl said. "They played us well (in an 83-52 loss) last year. A win over Tennessee makes their season. They are a good, capable opponent."


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