Zone busters?

Ohio State is expected to play 40 minutes of zone defense today at Thompson-Boling Arena, which is roughly 39 minutes and 45 seconds more than Tennessee saw from Vanderbilt Thursday night

When the Commodores went to a zone four minutes into the second half, Vol All-American Chris Lofton – scoreless to that point – promptly drained his first 3-pointer of the night. Vandy immediately scrapped the zone but Lofton had found a zone of his own. He quickly added a driving layup and another 3, single-handedly accounting for eight UT points in a 14-4 spurt that boosted a 40-30 lead to 54-34.

Whatever happens following today's 3:30 tipoff, it's a safe bet it will take more than one Lofton bomb to pull the visiting Buckeyes out of their zone.

"Ohio State is going to come in and they're going to play 2-3 zone and they're going to be huge at every position," Vol head coach Bruce Pearl said. "We haven't seen a start-to-finish 2-3 zone or matchup all year long.

"How are we going to be able to attack that? Will the quickness we possess be as big a factor against zone? Not like it is (against) man to man."

Although Pearl expects OSU's zone to give Tennessee problems, that's not entirely bad. The Vols are likely to see a lot of zone when they get into March Madness, so today's game offers a good primer for postseason.

"This game against Ohio State will really help us down the road," Pearl noted, "if we see that (2-3 zone) in the NCAA Tournament.

Even without 7-foot, 280-pound Greg Oden, the No. 1 pick in last June's NBA Draft, the Buckeyes boast a towering front line that will dwarf UT's 6-9, 6-7, 6-2 front line.

"They're big. I mean, they are BIG," Pearl said. "They'll be the biggest team we'll play at every position. We'll certainly be challenged."

Ohio State beat Tennessee twice last year, rallying from a 20-point deficit to win an 85-84 thriller in the NCAA Sweet 16 that ended UT's season. Pearl says the Vols haven't forgotten.

"We talked about it in the offseason, from the standpoint of the way our season ended," the coach said.

When asked if revenge is a motive, however, Pearl shook his head.

"Definitely not," he said. "This is a completely different Ohio State team, a completely different Tennessee team. Our focus is more on the NCAA Selection Committee and seeding. We've got to try and represent. I don't feel that way (vengeful) and I don't think the players do, either."

This may not be a revenge game but it's certainly a big game. It's so big, in fact, that CBS is paying a rare visit to K-Town in order to televise it.

"We're real excited," Vol guard JaJuan Smith said. "We know it's going to be a big game. It's on the big stage (CBS), so it's going to be big-time, and we're ready for it."

Like his coach, Smith downplayed the revenge angle. Still, he conceded that the Sweet 16 loss to the Buckeyes still bothers the Vols.

"That's in the back of our minds," he said. "We've got a nasty taste in our mouths but we know they're a different team."

With a 15-1 record and a No. 6 national ranking on the line, Tennessee should be motivated to play its best. The Vols expect nothing less from the unranked Buckeyes (12-5).

"They're going to come out with a lot of energy because I think it's a little rivalry now – Tennessee versus Ohio State," Smith said. "I think both teams are going to forget their records, come out and play their hardest."


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