Taxing slate awaits Vols

Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl is discovering that there are pitfalls to playing a "made-for-TV" schedule.

Instead of playing a traditional Saturday game last weekend, the Vols agreed to face Florida Sunday afternoon in order to be on CBS. And, instead of playing LSU Wednesday night at Baton Rouge, they're playing Thursday night in order to be on ESPN2.

That's all well and good. The Vols will gain a lot of exposure by playing those two games before the cameras. The problem is this: Because they agreed to play Thursday night in Baton Rouge, the Vols must fly back to Knoxville in the wee hours of Friday morning. After a light practice on Friday afternoon, the Big Orange will host South Carolina Saturday at 6 p.m. Eastern.

Bottom line: Whereas Tennessee will be playing its third game in seven days and second game in 45 hours, the Gamecocks will be playing on six days' rest - having enjoyed a mid-week bye this week.

"Somehow we will have played two SEC games in between the time South Carolina played their last game against Georgia and our game on Saturday," Pearl said on this week's SEC teleconference. "I don't know what precedent there is on that.

"I've been in the league for a few years, and I've never seen that happen where one team got six days' rest and the other team got one."

Despite a 16-4 overall record, a 4-2 league mark and a No. 14 national ranking, the Vols are at a crossroads. Trailing both 5-1 Kentucky and 5-1 Vanderbilt in the SEC East standings, they desperately need to win at LSU, which is 0-7 in league play to date, and they desperately need to beat South Carolina, since they've already lost at home to Vandy.

Given what's at stake, this is an inopportune time for a UT team playing its third game in seven days to face a South Carolina team playing its first game in seven days. Pearl recognizes as much, noting: "That's going to be tough for us to come back from a late Thursday night tip at LSU and then play a Saturday game against South Carolina."

Ironically, Tennessee is playing games on Sunday afternoons and Thursday nights because Pearl is such a hot property with the assorted TV networks. The exposure is invaluable but the trade-off is that he must send a tired team against a well-rested opponent on occasion. The UT-SC game will be one of those occasions.

Although the quick turnaround of playing a late road game on Thursday night and competing again on Saturday is quite taxing, Pearl feels the TV exposure is well worth it.

"I don't mind it because of television," the coach said. "I understand the Thursday-Saturday (turnaround). We have several Thursday-Saturday-Tuesday (scheduling glitches)."

The problem is this: While the Vols' made-for-TV schedule had them playing Florida on Sunday and LSU on Thursday, South Carolina was not playing anyone during that stretch.

As Pearl put it: "When one team's got the entire week off ... it's tough."

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