In short, most major-college programs figure it's a lose-lose situation. Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl is an exception to the rule, however. He figures it's a win-win: You limit travel costs and keep the money in-state.
The down side, of course, is that in-state mid-majors tend to play their absolute best when they face the state university. Pearl and his Vols know this from first-hand experience. To wit:
- They beat Lipscomb just 69-58 at Knoxville in 2005
- They beat ETSU just 93-88 at Knoxville in 2006
- They beat Chattanooga just 76-70 at Chattanooga in 2007
- They beat Middle Tennessee just 76-66 at Murfreesboro in 2008
- They beat Belmont just 79-77 at Knoxville in 2008
That's why the 11th-ranked Vols (5-1) are fully focused on tonight's 7 o'clock tipoff against ETSU. The Bucs (4-3) are sure to give a great effort.
"They're coming into the game looking to knock us off," junior post Brian Williams said. "We can't take any opponent for granted. We've got to come in as if we were playing Kansas. An in-state rival, that's even a bigger game because everybody can watch it and talk about it."
Senior post Wayne Chism agrees.
"It means a lot to an in-state team to play the University of Tennessee," he said. "Every time they come in they're hyped and ready to take out a Tennessee team."
Sophomore wing Cameron Tatum adds a hearty amen to that. He knows in-state schools cherish each opportunity to crash Tennessee's party.
"Oh, definitely," Tatum said. "Every team that gets a shot at one of the bigger schools is looking to knock you off. Most of those kids want to play the high-Div. 1 level, too. A lot of 'em got something to prove.
"We can't go in with the mindset that this is a smaller school. They're going to play hard, and they put their shorts on the same way we do."
NOTING ETSU: The Bucs are led by 6-4 forward Tommy Hubbard, who averages 18.3 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. He has posted double-doubles in five of ETSU's seven games this season. Justin Tubbs, a 6-3 guard, chips in 15.3 points and 4.9 rebounds.... The Bucs are riding a three-game winning streak, beating College of Charleston 77-71 last Wednesday, Arkansas 94-85 last Friday and North Florida 82-56 on Monday.... Tennessee leads the series 11-2 but lost to ETSU at Knoxville in both 1989 and 1991.