Vols, WKU vie in Nashville

Tennessee and Western Kentucky collide tonight at Nashville's Sommet Center in a game with more sub-plots than a Woody Allen movie.

The 12th-ranked Vols learned earlier this week that their starting center, 6-7 sophomore Duke Crews, will be sidelined indefinitely by a heart condition. Crews replaced Wayne Chism in the lineup two weeks ago and upgraded Tennessee's rebounding and post defense. With Crews sidelined, Chism returns to the starting five and 6-10, 270-pound freshman Brian Williams probably returns to the playing rotation.

Another interesting sub-plot to tonight's game is the fact J.P. Prince will see his first action as a Vol. He had to sit out UT's first nine games after transferring in from Arizona. At 6-8 and 200 pounds, he can play every position but the post.

Widely regarded as one of the three or four best players on the team, Prince should be a major contributor once he settles into a role. Head coach Bruce Pearl has coyly avoided discussing how – and how much – Prince will be utilized tonight.

Yet another intriguing sidelight is the matchup between Western Kentucky's Courtney Lee and Tennessee's Chris Lofton, two preseason Playboy All-Americans. Lee and Lofton go all the way back to the 2004 Kentucky-Indiana High School All-Star Game.

Lofton, originally from Maysville, Ky., scored 41 points in leading the Kentucky stars to an 89-81 victory. Lee, a native of Indianapolis, scored 28 in the losing cause. Lee is averaging 21.3 points per game for the Hilltoppers this season, while Lofton is averaging 14.4 for the Vols.

In addition:

Lofton needs just six 3-pointers to break Allan Houston's school record of 346 career treys. That will move him into second place on the all-time SEC list behind Arkansas's Pat Bradley (366).

JaJuan Smith needs just four points tonight to become the 40th player in UT history to reach the 1,000-point barrier.

Memphis will face Middle Tennessee in Game 1 of the Sun Belt Classic double-header. The Tigers and Vols have developed a fierce rivalry in the two years since Pearl became UT's head coach, splitting two meetings. Both are projected as potential Final Four teams for 2007-08.

All of these intriguing sub-plots have somewhat obscured the fact that this should be an excellent basketball game. The Vols (8-1) were the media's unanimous pick to win the SEC East this year. The Hilltoppers (7-2) were a unanimous pick by league coaches to win the Sun Belt's Eastern Division this year. WKU already boasts defeats of Michigan and Nebraska this season and is coming off a 76-60 drubbing of Eastern Kentucky.

In addition to Lee, a 6-5, 200-pounder, WKU is expected to start 6-9, 260-pound freshman D.J. Magley (4.9 points, 2.3 rebounds per game), 6-9, 190-pound sophomore Jeremy Evans (3.6 points, 4.7 rebounds), 6-0, 180-pound senior Tyrone Brazelton (12.1 points, 3.6 assists) and 6-3 senior Ty Rogers (6.1 points per game).

Tipoff is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. EST.

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