UT faces tough matchups

In the wild world of college basketball who you play is just as important as how you play. A good matchup usually means a win. A bad matchup usually means a loss.

Tennessee had two good matchups on its recent homestand, which is why the Vols were able to manhandle Georgia 79-48 last Wednesday and trounce Vanderbilt 69-50 last Saturday.

The Big Orange was superior athletically to both of those teams and deftly exploited this superiority by establishing a fast pace that neither opponent could maintain.

"The defensive gameplan was similar against both teams ... utilize a little bit more fullcourt pressure," UT coach Bruce Pearl said. "Both teams lose when they turn the ball over, so we tried to turn them over and extend defensively. The risk/reward was to our advantage."

That's for sure. Tennessee forced 25 turnovers against Georgia and 23 more versus Vandy.

Whereas the Dawgs and Commodores were favorable matchups for the Vols, this week's opponents – Ole Miss on Wednesday and Kentucky on Saturday – are not.

The Rebels are a very physical team that will test Tennessee's toughness. Playing at Tad Smith Coliseum in Oxford, the Rebs can be especially aggressive, since officials generally blow fewer whistles on home teams.

As for the Wildcats, they pose matchup problems for everyone when Jodie Meeks is hot, and he was on fire (54 points) in their 90-72 blowout of UT Jan. 13 in Knoxville.

Mindful of this, Pearl is not ready to say his team turned the proverbial corner against Georgia and Vanderbilt. Those strong showings, after all, came against teams that were very favorable matchups.

"I think it more had to do with the opponent," the Vol coach said of last week's success. "It more had to do with the kind of things we were able to do that disrupted them."

Still, Pearl saw some very positive developments last week, particularly on the defensive end of the floor.

"I think we're communicating better," he said. "I think we've got a better sense of urgency."

The Vols will need that sense of urgency. This week's matchups aren't nearly as favorable as last week's.


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