Will layoff hurt UT?

The Tennessee basketball team's biggest concern today against Temple may not be the Owls. It might be rust.

When the Vols take the floor this afternoon in Philadelphia, they'll be playing for the first time after a nine-day layoff. They've been focused on final exams – not basketball – ever since posting a lethargic 87-69 defeat of UNC Asheville on Dec. 3.

Will the time off hurt? Perhaps. The Vols, coming off a 10-day layoff last December, trailed Western Kentucky for most of the game before rallying late to eke out an 88-82 victory. That performance looked a bit stronger, however, when the Hilltoppers wound up making the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 last March.

You wonder: Will the nine-day layoff and the focus on final exams adversely affect the 2008-09 Vols today at Temple?

"We had plenty of time to get ready," UT head coach Bruce Pearl said this week. "I think finals will not be a factor. We've had lots of time in between tests to practice. I think we're good to go."

Most of UT's final exams were scheduled last week, so the Vols should have had their focus shifted back to basketball in the days leading up to today's clash in the City of Brotherly Love. Pearl did not like what he saw in the two most recent outings – an 83-74 loss to Gonzaga and the lackluster defeat of UNC Asheville – so he's hoping to see progress today.

"I expected us to be farther along," the coach said. "Now is the time. Let's see it. We need to see it this week."

It's worth noting that Pearl posted one of his biggest wins at UT coming off a 10-day break for final exams. That was in December of 2005, when his first Vol squad drilled No. 6 Texas 95-78 in Austin. Of course, Tennessee was able to sneak up on teams in those days. The Vols are ranked No. 8 nationally this season, so they don't catch anyone napping these days.

Today's game between Tennessee (6-1) and Temple (4-3) has a noon tipoff with TV coverage provided by ESPN.

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