Vol dance card is full

It's strangely appropriate that Tennessee's first week of competition in the NCAA East Regional should coincide with the first week of competition in the newest installment of the TV show "Dancing With The Stars."

The Vols are essentially "dancing" with a bunch of stars these days. Their regional field in The Big Dance is loaded with high-profile hardwood hunks. So, like the celebrities participating in the afore-mentioned TV series, the Vols must overcome some stiff competition in order to advance.

Assuming Tennessee beats American University Friday in Birmingham, the Vols' second-round test likely will be Butler. Although they are a mid-major program, the Bulldogs are worthy of a gold star on their dressing room door. They carry a 29-3 record and a No. 11 national ranking into the East Regionals. Why they were saddled with a No. 7 seed for the NCAA Tournament is anyone's guess.

"Graves and Green is perhaps the best guard combo in this regional," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl says.

That would be A.J. Graves and Mike Green.

Green averages 14.9 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. He has a superior ratio of assists (164) to turnovers (90), and shoots 37.3 percent from 3-point range while playing 33.8 minutes per game.

Graves averages 13.3 points, while shooting 34.1 percent from 3 and 87.7 percent from the foul line. He also has more assists (66) than turnovers (51) and averages a whopping 35.1 minutes per game.

Should Tennessee survive Rounds 1 and 2, the likely opponent in the Sweet 16 would be Louisville. Rick Pitino's Cardinals are 24-8, ranked No. 13 nationally and seeded No. 3 in the East Region.

"Two weeks ago Louisville was pretty commonly talked about as a Final Four team," Pearl notes. "Right before they played Georgetown for the Big East championship, they were talking about a 1 or 2 seed. There were times down the stretch where Louisville was playing as well as any team in the country."

Should the Vols survive Rounds 1, 2 and 3 of regional competition, they likely will play their Elite Eight game against North Carolina. The Tar Heels are 32-2 and seeded No. 1 for the entire NCAA Tournament. Enough said.

Of course, the East Region field also features a Tennessee team that is no slouch. The Vols are 29-4, with the NCAA's No. 1 RPI and No. 1 strength of schedule. They won the SEC regular-season championship by a two-game margin, enjoyed a brief stint as the nation's No. 1 team and handed Memphis its only loss of the season ... on the Tigers' home floor.

"Based on the map, with the No. 1 RPI of the decade and our strength of schedule being No. 1, we're a good 2 seed," Pearl notes in a rare understatement.

Bottom line: The East is one loaded region.

"I think it's the toughest, no question, with North Carolina ranked the top seed in the Tournament," Pearl said. "You have to go through North Carolina in Raleigh (Rounds 1 and 2) and then in Charlotte (Region semis and finals).

"But we can't look down the road," the Vol coach hastened to add. "The first thing for us is to concern ourselves with a four-team tournament made up of American University, Butler University, South Alabama and us. It's obviously a very, very strong field."

That's OK, though. The best way to make a name for yourself is by dancing with the stars.


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