Comparing scores didn't prove to be a reliable barometer in Tennessee's most recent outing, however. Again using UMass as the central figure, here's what you get:
UMass beat Kansas by 1 (61-60), Kansas beat UT by 7 (92-85) and Vanderbilt beat UMass by 30 (78-48). That suggested Vanderbilt was 38 points better than the Vols. Tennessee obliterated this line of reasoning, however, by winning 76-63 at Nashville on Tuesday night.
"This is how college basketball works," Pearl noted earlier this week. "This is crazy ... the slippery rock theory. That's the thing about college basketball. It just doesn't make any sense."
Indeed. Comparing strictly head-to-head scores suggests that Tennessee is vastly superior to Memphis. The Vols beat Chattanooga by 39 points (114-75), whereas the Tigers beat the Mocs by just 12 (83-71). Moreover, UT beat Georgetown by 12 (90-78), whereas Memphis lost to the Hoyas by nine (79-70).
Comparative scores aside, today's game should be interesting because of the intensity of the rivalry. Calipari has fielded great teams at Memphis, yet he is 1-2 head-to-head against Pearl. An unranked Vol squad trounced the 16th-ranked Tigers 76-58 in 2006 at Knoxville and a second-ranked UT squad shocked an unbeaten and top-ranked Tiger team 66-62 last February at Memphis.
The teams that collide this afternoon at TBA bear little resemblance to last year's squads, however. Each team has lost three starters and each seems to have lost its shooting touch from long range. After shooting 34.9 percent from 3-point range last year, Memphis is hitting just 31.3 this season. Tennessee's drop is even more pronounced. After hitting 35.7 percent last season, the Vols are hitting just 30.3 this year.
Given their problems from the perimeter, both teams may look to score close to the basket. Memphis' top inside players are 6-10 238-pound junior Shawn Taggart (10.3 points, 7.4 rebounds per game) and 6-9 200-pound Robet Dozier (11.8 points, 6.7 rebounds). Tennessee will counter with 6-9 242-pound junior Wayne Chism (12.5 points, 8.9 rebounds) and 6-7, 215-pound junior Tyler Smith (17.9 points, 5.9 rebounds).
Each team features a heralded freshman guard. Tyreke Evans, a 6-6 219-pounder, is averaging a team-best 16.6 points as Memphis' starting point guard. Scotty Hopson, a 6-7 185-pounder, is averaging 9.1 points as Tennessee's starting off guard.
Memphis is 15-3 and ranked No. 22 heading into this afternoon's game. Tennessee is 12-5 and unranked. The game is being televised by CBS.