Six is sufficient

The fact Tennessee's Bruce Pearl plays nine guys and Ohio State's Thad Matta plays only six suggests depth could favor the Vols in Friday's NCAA Midwest Regional semifinal at St. Louis.

That's only the case if there's a taxing pace, however, which is unlikely to happen in this game. Tennessee's roster is deep enough but not quick enough to force a fast tempo with fullcourt pressure. So, exhausting the Buckeyes is more of a pipe dream than a viable option.

"Depth is not going to be a factor; fatigue is not going to be a factor as relates to our style of play," UT coach Bruce Pearl said. "We're not going to suddenly start to press just because that's the way you can wear them down.

"It would be nice to go into this game against Ohio State with fullcourt pressure as an option because they're so good in the halfcourt and with (Evan) Turner not being a true point guard. He's been pressed all season, so it's not like they haven't seen pressure. I'd like to have it in the arsenal but it just doesn't suit us this year."

Still, a team that uses nine players should have some kind of advantage against a team that uses only six. Pearl concedes as much.

"Can fatigue be a factor in one game? Probably not," the Vol coach said. "But foul trouble could be."

Three Vols - J.P. Prince, Bobby Maze and Scotty Hopson - are reasonably good at taking the ball to the basket. Should they get a few Buckeye starters in early foul trouble, that could tip the scales in Tennessee's favor. If that is the gameplan, however, Pearl won't tip his hand.

"We'll go to where our offensive strengths are," the coach hedged, "and try to stay away from their defensive strengths."

Unfortunately for the Vols, Ohio State has a lot of strengths defensively. The Buckeyes allow just 61 points per game and 40.8 percent shooting.

That means Tennessee's offense will need to play more like it did in Round 2 vs. Ohio University (56.7 percent from the field) than it did in Round 1 vs. San Diego State (38.5 percent).

"We think we can put our guys in the right spots," Pearl said. "The question is: Are we going to be good enough to be able to stop them and handle all of the different things Ohio State can do? They can press. They can speed you up, slow you down. They can zone. They can match up. They can man. It's a good team to have four or five days to prepare for."

The Buckeyes (29-7) are ranked No. 5 nationally and seeded No. 2 in the Midwest Region. Despite their lack of depth, they represent an imposing challenge for Tennessee (27-8), ranked No. 15 and seeded No. 6.

"They play six guys," Pearl said, "but the six guys they put on the floor are all really, really good. They're a tough matchup."

Pearl has a tough matchup, as well, in OSU coach Thad Matta. They've faced one another five times, with Matta winning four.

The first two meetings occurred in 2001, when both were coaching in the Horizon League. Matta's Butler team beat Pearl's Wisconsin-Miwaukee team 60-51 on the road and 80-75 at home. Matta's Bulldogs went on to win the Midwestern Collegiate Conference's regular-season and tournament titles that year, earning him Horizon League Coach of the Year honors. He then guided his team to Round 2 of the NCAA Tournament before losing to eventual Final Four runnerup Arizona.

After three years as head man at Xavier, Matta took the Ohio State reins in 2004. He faced Pearl's Vols twice in 2006-07, prevailing 68-66 at Columbus during the regular season and 85-84 at San Antonio in the NCAA Sweet 16. Pearl avenged himself by leading the Vols to a 75-69 victory at Knoxville in January of 2008.

"We've got familiarity with them, having played them three times over a period of 12 months a couple of years ago," Pearl said of the Buckeyes. "I thought we outplayed Ohio State twice and lost both games. I thought they outplayed us when we played them here and we were fortunate to win that one."

All five meetings between Pearl and Matta have been decided by nine points or less, and Friday's showdown in St. Louis projects to be another hardwood chess match.

"You won't out-gameplan Thad Matta," Pearl said. "You won't outcoach him. He'll do a very good job with his team and the schemes that they run."


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