How far can Pearl take this Vol's team

The Basketball Gods were smiling, so was Bruce Pearl and most of Vol Nation. The Vols punched their ticket for the third Sweet 16 Appearance since Bruce Pearl's arrival five years ago at Rocky Top. Go "Inside" for an early look at Ohio State and whether or not the Vols will make it to the Elite 8.

Saturday was a beautiful day for Big Orange fans, who watched their Tennessee men's basketball team control a pesky Ohio Bobcats squad for 40 minutes en route to an 83-68 victory and third Sweet Sixteen appearance in four years.

Sunday afternoon brought an unpleasant reminder however, as those clad in orange watched eagerly to learn of their upcoming opponent.

The Buckeyes of Ohio State, winners over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 75-66, punched their ticket for a dogfight with the Volunteers for a place in the Elite Eight, a place the Volunteers have never been in their history.

It was a matchup Vols fans can quietly loathe or eagerly anticipate when considering the gut-wrenching loss to the Buckeyes in the Sweet Sixteen in 2007.

Then, a fifth-seeded Volunteer squad led by Chris Lofton, Dane Bradshaw and JaJuan Smith flew out to a 20-point lead over the one-seeded Buckeyes, only to see Ohio State mount a monstrous comeback and defeat the Big Orange 85-84.

The Volunteers had previously lost to the Buckeyes in Columbus that year, a close 66-68 loss.

Ohio State would march all the way to the Final Four, where they would lose to the Florida Gators, a team the Vols beat twice that year, 84-75.

The choke in San Antonio is still fresh in the memories of those in the Tennessee program.

The images are still there, Ramar Smith flying down court with 6.5 seconds, going for a desperation lay-in only to see the towering Greg Oden hit the ball deep into the stands.

Wayne Chism saw playing time against the Buckeyes in that fateful matchup. J.P. Prince was on the Vol roster but sat out the 2006-07 season as a transfer from Arizona.

Now, three years later, the Buckeyes are a No. 2 seed while the Volunteers entered the tournament limping to a No. 6 seed, after a humiliating loss to the Kentucky Wildcats in the semi-finals of the SEC Tournament.

The Volunteers extracted some level of revenge on Ohio State when the Buckeyes visited Thompson-Boling Arena in 2008, as the Volunteers took the contest 74-69, much to the pleasure of an energized home crowd.

The win improved head coach Bruce Pearl's history with the Buckeyes, now standing at 1-2.

Now the Big Orange find themselves in the same situation as the 2007 squad. Beat Ohio State and find a promising path to the Final Four.

Had the 2007 Vols upset the Buckeyes in San Antonio, they would have punched a ticket to play the Memphis Tigers; a team the Volunteers had beaten handily 76-58 in Knoxville earlier that season.

When asked days before his senior night what the toughest loss he had endured as a Volunteer was, Wayne Chism shook his head and admitted Ohio State, noting the potential matchup with Memphis, whom the Buckeyes easily topped 92-76 for Final Four spot.

Should the Volunteers defeat the Buckeyes in 2010 in St. Louis, Mo., a potential matchup with the winner of the Michigan State-Northern Iowa game awaits.

Tennessee has not played either of those teams this season, however many in orange are breathing a sigh of relief with the tournament's top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks now removed from the top of their Midwest brackets.

History and future aside however, this 2010 Tennessee squad, which can be described as scrappy, proud and even magical after the tumultuous events of this season, the path to the Final Four in Indianapolis goes through Ohio State once again.


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