Grudge match

Sometimes, when the stars are aligned just right, a team plays a near-perfect basketball game. The shots seem Divinely guided, the rebounds fall your way and the opposing team can't buy a basket or catch a break.

Tennessee had just such a game last November – shooting 64.9 percent from the floor and 57.1 percent (16 of 28) from 3-point range, winning the backboards 31-24 and forcing 29 turnovers. Meanwhile, its opponent shot just 31.0 percent from the floor and 16.7 percent from beyond the arc.

The result was a 109-40 romp that left Middle Tennessee's players and coaches both disgusted and humiliated. As a result, the Blue Raiders have a score to settle in the most literal sense when they host the rematch tonight at 7 Central (8 Eastern) in Murfreesboro's Murphy Center.

Middle Tennessee has more going for it tonight than the quest for redemption and the home-court advantage, however. The Blue Raiders return all five starters from their 2007-08 squad. The overwhelming pick to win the Sun Belt Conference this season, coach Kermit Davis' team stands 2-0 by virtue of a 94-53 blowout of Trevecca and an 80-63 drubbing of Houston Baptist.

Middle's star players are 6-7, 225-pound junior forward Desmond "Boogie" Yates and 6-2, 185-pound senior guard Kevin Kanaskie.

Yates averages 19.5 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. Kanaskie averages 15.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and a whopping 10.0 assists per game. His individual matchup with Tennessee point guard Bobby Maze (averaging 9.0 assists per game) should be a classic.

Also scoring in double figures for Middle Tennessee are 6-2 senior guard Nigel Johnson (10.5 ppg) and 6-4 junior forward Calvin O'Neil (10.0).

Whereas the Blue Raiders essentially are the same team they were last year, the Vols are a significantly different team than the one that mauled Middle 366 days ago. Gone are starters Chris Lofton, JaJuan Smith and Ramar Smith, plus key reserves Duke Crews and Jordan Howell. Tennessee won last year's meeting by burning the nets from 3-point range but that is not likely to happen in tonight's rematch. The 2008-09 Vols are shooting a frigid 28.3 percent from beyond the arc. Middle Tennessee, by comparison, is hitting a sizzling 43.2 percent from 3.

The Vols, 2-0 after annihilating Chattanooga 114-75 and trouncing UT-Martin 91-64, are expected to go with their usual lineup of 6-9 Wayne Chism, 6-7 Tyler Smith, 6-8 freshman Renaldo Woolridge, 6-7 freshman Scotty Hopson and the 6-2 Maze.

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