Pitino's pace

Louisville coach Rick Pitino is known for his uptempo style but, heading into an NCAA Sweet 16 game with high-octane Tennessee, you have to wonder: Is a fast pace really in the Cards?

Certainly, Pitino's Cardinals are capable of running the floor and scoring points in clusters. They hung 89 on Kentucky in a big win Jan. 5 at Rupp Arena, a place where Tennessee managed a mere 66 points in a disappointing loss just 17 days later. Louisville also piled up points in beating Marshall (85-75), Rutgers (87-50), DePaul (88-68) and Notre Dame (90-85) this season.

Still, Pitino may choose not to run with Tennessee Thursday night (projected 9:42 EDT tipoff) at Bobcats' Arena in Charlotte. Playing a tougher schedule, the Vols are averaging 82.5 points per game this season, whereas the Cards are averaging just 72.3.

Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl may not want the game to erode into a track meet, either. He isn't sure his team can slow down the Cardinals' transition game once it starts clicking.

"Once they get it going, they're hard to stop," he said. "We'll have to mix things up."

With a smug grin, the coach added: "Of course, the players want to run up and down the court, so that's probably what's gonna' happen."

One obvious reason for Tennessee to push the pace is the fact that the Vols' top two point guards – Ramar Smith and J.P. Prince – are a lot more comfortable in the open floor than in a halfcourt set.

Another factor that could produce a quick tempo is the fact both the Vols and the Cardinals have enough quality reserves to maintain a high level of play while the starters are resting.

Louisville has 10 guys who have started this year, eight of whom average at least 17 minutes per game. Incredibly, all eight are scoring between 6 and 12 points per game.

"There is great balance on this Louisville team," Pearl said.

Tennessee has some balance, too. Eight Vols average at least 14 minutes per game, with six of them averaging between 7.5 and 15.5 points per game.

Whether the pace Thursday night is Mercurial or not, it should be a lot quicker than it was in Tennessee's East Region quarterfinal game with Butler, one of the more deliberate teams in college basketball. Several Vols find the prospect of a fast pace appealing.

"It would be exciting," sophomore forward Wayne Chism said, "but then there's going to be a lot of turnovers on both teams because everybody's going to like to go fast. But sometimes you're going to have to slow the game down and be patient. Sometimes going fast you'll rush your offense."

Bottom line: There is an element of intrigue to Thursday night's NCAA East Region semifinal between the second-seeded Vols (31-4) and the third-seeded Cardinals (26-8).

It might be a horse race. It might be a chess match.

Either way, it shapes up as one of the most interesting games of the postseason.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories