Louisville loss won't linger

After Tennessee blew a 20-point lead in last year's Sweet 16 game against Ohio State, Bruce Pearl said it would take a long time to get over that defeat.

After a 19-point loss to Louisville in the Sweet 16 two days ago, you wonder if Pearl feels the same way. You wonder if the loss will linger.

My guess: No.

Tennessee had a wonderful chance last season to make its first-ever Elite Eight appearance. Pearl could replay several decisions that might have made the difference in a close game.

But the way Louisville outplayed UT on Thursday, what could you second guess?

Tennessee got beat by a better team that appeared to be more prepared. And UT was almost playing with one hand behind its back. When you change point guards 35 games into the season, that's almost like changing quarterbacks for your bowl game.

Add to that foul trouble to the majority of your key players and being embarrassed on the boards and you didn't have much of a chance.

``They're really good,'' Pearl said of Louisville. ``A terrifically athletic team.''

More athletic than Tennessee. And deeper, if you consider quality depth.

Much was made of how deep the Vols were this season. Yes, Pearl played nine to 10 players. But in reality, the depth was overrated. Ramar Smith and Duke Crews are quality players. Brian Williams will be, but in his last 19 games, he scored 38 points and grabbed 49 rebounds.

Strange as it sounds, the depth might be better next season, if Tyler Smith returns and the Vols sign blue-chip wing Scottie Hopson. Wayne Chism, Ramar Smith and Crews would probably be the other starters, with Cameron Tatum, Josh Tabb, an improved Williams, and signees Renaldo Woolridge, Daniel West and Phillip Jurich coming off the bench.

Improved depth could help the Vols overcome the losses of Chris Lofton, the school's No. 4 all-time scorer, and JaJuan Smith, a 3-point threat and the team's best defender.

Pearl is optimistic Tennessee will be right back in the hunt for another SEC Championship and a high NCAA Tournament seed.

``The program is just in terrific shape,'' Pearl said, citing the fan support and renovations to Thompson-Boling Arena.

``We've got a little bit of recruiting to finish up. We're in the mix on a tremendous player we'll come down to wire on. If we get that done, it will be a very good recruiting class.''

That player is Hopson, who scored 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the McDonald's All-American game Wednesday night. Hopson finished third in the slam-dunk competition.

Hopson, from Hopkinsville, Ky., committed to Mississippi State last spring but reneged on that commitment in November and re-opened his recruiting. UT, Louisville, Kentucky and State appear to be his final four.

Hopson made an unofficial visit to UT as a junior but has not been back to Knoxville since. He is expected to make an official visit soon.

As Pearl looked ahead, he couldn't help but reflect on the best season in UT men's basketball history.

``I told the kids, the loss didn't take anything away,'' Pearl said. ``But we could have added to it. We'd have loved to play North Carolina for the right to go to the Final Four.

``I'm happy our fans had a chance to enjoy the ride. It's a great team. It's a great family. We'll be back next year to bring you another great edition.''


Look for Indiana to pursue Pearl.

Look for Pearl to stay at Tennessee.

Why would he leave? He makes considerably more than what fired Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson made -- $7.3 million over seven years. Pearl made $1.3 million this year. He gets an annual raise of $100,000. That brings is salary to $1.8 million in 2012-13. He gets a $500,000 retention bonus on June 30, 2010 and June 30, 2013. Add that to the package and his six-year average is $1.72 million.

That does not count bonuses of 24 percent of his base salary for winning the SEC or making the Sweet 16, $100,000 for making the Final Four and $250,000 for winning the national championship.


If Pearl gets a raise, the question becomes: What happens to Pat Summitt's salary.

She is compensated at a rate close to what Pearl makes, with the same bonus package, but not the same $100,000 annual raise.

Would she be insulted if Pearl, after three years and no Final Fours, makes more than Summitt after 34 years and seven national titles?

``I want Tennessee to do what it has to do to keep Bruce Pearl,'' Summitt said. ``I don't want Bruce to leave here. I don't think anyone wants Bruce to leave. I don't want to stand in his way. The University knows my feelings on that.

``At the same time, I'll be entering my 35th year and I want the University to take into account what they feel my value is to the University and not necessarily compare me to Bruce Pearl.''

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