Posted on: March 28, 2010 5:08 pm
Edited on: March 28, 2010 5:09 pm

Spartans Cobble Together an Elite Eight Win


While you spent the last two hours changing lightbulbs and cleaning out your gutters in preparation for spring because you promised your wife last weekend that you'd do all that stuff this weekend, in St. Louis Bruce Pearl's Volunteers and Tom Izzo's Spartans beat the tar out of each other in a back-and-forth that would end with a 70-69 Michigan State victory and propel them to yet another Final Four. Tied at 69, Tennessee guard J.P. Prince would mar an otherwise stellar, hustling performance by fouling senior forward Raymar Morgan, offering Morgan the point he'd need to send the Spartans to Indianapolis next weekend. Prince had 12 points on the day and teammate Wayne Chism chimed in with another 13. You can't say the Vols weren't competitive. There wasn't even a hunch as to who was going to come out of this one -- it was a dead heat. And it could have gone either way.

The constants we all expected were there. Tennessee's speed and lethal attacks. Michigan State's determination. Tom Izzo's ability to adapt. Bruce Pearl's gallons and gallons of sweat. 

The way it did go in the end, however, was the way Michigan State wanted it to go. Once again the team pulled together in Kalin Lucas' absence (these guys are starting to supersede the Kalin Lucas story with their own amazing resilience) to piece together a team effort that saw Durrell Summers with 21, Korie Lucious with 8 and both Morgan and Draymond Green marked down for 13 apiece. Tennessee fought them tooth and nail, but the Spartans earned this one and continued to defy those who said they couldn't perform without Lucas. 

So the Volunteers head home to Knoxville after their fiercest battle toward the Final Four in history and the Spartans prepare to take a short road trip south to face Butler in their home town, two teams which -- from a tournament history standpoint -- couldn't be more diverse. But yet, they're both five seeds, and they're both fighting for their lives. 

See you in the Final Four, fellas. Get some rest. You're going to need it.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 28, 2010 9:20 am
Edited on: March 28, 2010 9:22 am

Hot St. Louis Action: Mich. St. vs. Tennessee


If you're in St. Louis today, and it's not because you're attending the annual convention of the Association of Pipefitting Manufacturers -- Midwest Region (APMMWR), I'm just going to assume you're here for the mighty battle for the Final Four slated for this afternoon. Today's Show-Me throwdown pits the underperforming and hobbled Michigan State Spartans against the overperforming and confident Tennessee Volunteers in what could be one of the most even matches we've seen yet in a tournament full of wacky, unpredictable upsets and blowouts. Let's go to the talking points, so you can sound really smart today when you're watching it with that brother-in-law or co-worker you hate. Your welcome, America.

Who wants the ball more? Both Michigan State and Tennessee have turned in nice total rebounding numbers throughout the tourney -- in the last round alone, the Vols pulled down 36 (mostly Chism's and Williams') and the Spartans netted 31 (evenly spread out among the starters). Should be active in the paint today, and whoever's scrapping underneath the basket more is going to give themselves a nice edge.

Lucious is a major target. Sophomore guard Korie Lucious has had to grow up quickly in this tournament since Spartan all-star Kalin Lucas has gone out for the season, and Izzo has to be surprised in the way this kid has stepped up to run the show. Confident and determined, Lucious has thus far been an effective replacement for the injured Lucas, though he's still young and not infallible. If Tennessee can find a way to get to him today, either physically or mentally, they could expose a weakness in the Spartans' armor. 

Izzo will have a plan. The veteran tournament coach is a master of a two-day turnaround to figure out a gameplan; that's why the Spartans are the defending tourney runners-up. This is Pearl's and Tennessee's first experience this far in the tournament, so this is uncharted territory for them. You can bet the Michigan State staff will come into this thing with a solid idea of how to beat the Vols. The question is, how quickly can Pearl figure out a plan of his own?

Threes could be a decider. Tennessee has some great guns and speed in Scotty Hopson and JP Prince, but it's worth noting that Michigan State guard Durrell Summers is looking at 59 points in the past three games and is shooting 50% from behind the three-point line in the tournament. If both teams are rebounding and going toe-to-toe evenly in the paint, whoever can sink the longball will be looking pretty.

Don't let Bruce Pearl hug you. He is very sweaty and you might slip and hurt yourself. Kalin Lucas is already out; let's hope Raymar Morgan doesn't fall for the patented Pearl "hug-trap" before the game today.

Should be a solid matchup today, folks. It's the last Big Ten team standing versus the last SEC team standing. Winner evolves its species.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 27, 2010 4:21 pm
Edited on: March 27, 2010 4:23 pm

Bruce Pearl: Tennessee Basketball's Sweaty Savior


Last night, Bruce Pearl's Tennessee Volunteers did away with the Evan Turner-led Buckeyes to advance to its first regional final ever in Tennessee men's basketball history. If you're like me, this seems rather surprising to you. After all, it's not as if Tennessee basketball is by-and-large terrible -- quite the opposite, in fact. The Vols are fairly routinely, especially under Bruce Pearl, a notable team, generally close to if not in the top 25, especially since Pearl's arrival in Knoxville five years ago. And he's becoming quite the celebrity in Knoxville.

Pearl is quickly making a Ray Mears-esque play for the hearts of Vol fans. As a coach, he's beloved by the Orange Nation -- some might even argue that the only thing he exudes more than salty, excessive amounts of sweat is confidence and charisma. Don't believe me? Check out his credentials. in seventeen seasons as a head coach, Pearl:

-has the fourth-best winning percentage among all Division 1 head coaches with at least three years of experience
-was the fastest coach to log 200 wins at one school
-was the second-fastest active head coach to win 300 and 400 career games
-owns the best career winning percentage among all Southeastern Conference head coaches

If you have any questions about these accolades, don't take them up with me; take 'em up with Bruce. After all, every one of those stats comes from Pearl's own official website CoachPearl.com. I might suggest he also add "is obsessed with superlatives" to his list of accomplishments. And "master showman and PR professional." Want proof? For Lady Vols games, Pearl has both painted his entire upper body orange and dressed as a Volunteer cheerleader. While this information and these mental images may deter you from attending Tennessee women's basketball, however, you can't say Pearl isn't making himself part of the fabric there on campus. I personally know several people who've met Pearl and have heard on multiple occasions how infinitely likable he is in person. And those weren't Tennesssee fans, mind you. 

Also, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee seems to think he's still the head coach there

And now Pearl takes the Volunteers to their first Elite Eight, facing Tom Izzo's Michigan State tomorrow afternoon in St. Louis, in a game which is absolutely bound to be packed with both green and orange, given Missouri's easy accessibility from both East Lansing and Knoxville. 

How far can Bruce Pearl take this team? We'll see. All we know for a fact is that tomorrow's game is big for Tennessee. I mean, like "five extra sticks of Degree antiperspirant and possibly a few alternative t-shirts" big. Because two things are sure: the Volunteers are gonna be ready, and Pearl's gonna be sweaty. But Tennessee fans are fine with that -- after all, he's taking places they've never been before. 
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 26, 2010 10:30 pm
Edited on: March 26, 2010 10:31 pm

Bruce Pearl's Sweaty Math Checks Out


Bruce Pearl reportedly told his Tennessee Volunteers of their Sweet Sixteen game against the Ohio State Buckeyes "It's our team versus their six." Afterward, he added "We were a better ten than their six."

Often this season the Buckeyes only needed one, however -- and that's Player of the Year candidate Evan Turner, who tonight did his best to hoist his team upon his shoulders and go to work with a stellar 31 points and 7 assists. In the end, though, Turner's fervent swinging couldn't fend off Pearl's ninja squadron of scrappers, led by Wayne Chism and his oddly placed headband. Chism turned in 22 points, backed up by J.P. Prince's 14 -- and the Volunteers were on their way to their first regional final.

A last second three-point attempt by Turner -- who has that kind of last-second magic, as evidenced by the Big Ten tournament -- didn't see the pixie dust fall for him today, and the court was swarmed quickly by fans in orange, whom Chism and Prince celebrated with and whom Pearl sweat upon. 

Tennessee will head forward to play the winner of Michigan State - Northern Iowa, in action now. Why are you not watching that? Get off the internet; if you love basketball so much you have two great games going right now, you knucklehead. That is all.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 20, 2010 6:29 pm

Volunteers Off to Missouri, Ohio Not Invited


Going into Saturday's second-round games in Providence, there was really one headscratcher. How the Bobcats, who already had denizens of the MAC tournament reeling, dropped 97 points on a very tough Georgetown team was one of the greatest mysteries of Thursday's play (and let's face it, Thursday itself was one of the most mystical days of NCAA Tourney play in history). 

Not that the Bobcats didn't deserve to be here. They did. A team that struggled during in-conference MAC play, John Groce's boys found a way to string together four games and win the MAC title and buy a bid into the proceedings. And while we're at it, let's call it like it was: they beat Georgetown legitimately.

Did Ohio have a shot running up against six-seeded Tennessee today? One thing was sure -- they'd get a chance to prove whether their defeat of the Hoyas was a fluke or not. After all, Tennessee this season isn't as good as the Hoyas probably were going into this tournament. As it turns out, though, the Vols were too much for the Bobcats as Tennessee sends Ohio packing with an 83-68 victory. And it's a good thing Tennessee didn't have to break too much of a sweat, because Wayne Chism's headband wasn't pulled down nearly far enough to handle that kind of action.

A back-and-forth game early with Tennessee pulling away late in the game and running off with the prize, J.P. Prince turned in 18 points -- with Brian Williams and Chism netting 12 rebounds apiece -- and the Ohio fairy tale was over in Providence. The Volunteers will head on to St. Louis, where Bruce Pearl can presumably sweat all over the St. Louis Arch, and play the winner of Sunday's Ohio State-Georgia Tech game, whom it is a given he will also sweat upon. As for Ohio, they'll go home with their hats in their hands -- but it was fun while it lasted, right guys?

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 19, 2010 12:23 am
Edited on: March 19, 2010 12:25 am

Volunteers Kill Dreams, Prove Magic Isn't Real


Because we can't have nice things in Providence, Bruce Pearl's Volunteers had to come along and disrupt the wackiness tonight by bouncing the San Diego State Aztecs 59-62 in a down-to-the-wire battle that came down to pivotal free throws by Wayne Chism, who continues to wear the most ineffective headband in NCAA basketball history. Seriously. He might as well wear that thing around his knee.

Don't take anything away from the gang in orange tonight -- make no mistake about it, they played hard and they really did earn this win from an SDSU that refused to lie down. You also can tell who's the toast of a game by whose parents get shown the most, and tonight those honors went to guard J.P. Prince, who led the Vols with 15 points and 6 rebounds. Pearl's crew never led by much, but it was enough to send the Aztecs back to their ziggurats (impressed?) and Tennessee moves on to play Georgetown-slayer Ohio on Saturday, where we can only assume that like most things, sweaty Bruce Pearl will ruin the Bobcat's happiness. But this is Providence, and we've learned it's a little crazy up here. So who knows?

I should also probably admit that it's an absolute treat getting to listen to classics Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery together all day in the Providence pod. Even though Raftery tends to gush a little over the things he likes, and Verne sometimes seems to get a little lost (today's Saint Mary's game saw him pronouncing Omar Samhan as "Samham" once every three minutes or so), the two do a great job of being impartial judges and are like charming, funny grandfathers calling the game. Anything they do together should be sponsored by Werther's -- they're that special.

And that's the day in Providence. Tomorrow it's about a thousand miles south to sunny Jacksonville, Florida. Wear your tank top. I know I will.
Posted on: March 13, 2010 4:38 pm

Kentucky Gives it to the Vols, 74-45


4:40 PM

There is no doubt that Kentucky is a contender to win the national title.  But when they are hitting threes with the authority they did in a 74-45 victory over Tennessee on Saturday, they may be very difficult to stop.  Kentucky made eight threes, including five by Freshman Eric Bledsoe in beating their biggest conference rival before a loud crowd of what John Calipari called "The Blue Mist."  The game was characterized by its emotion and chippiness, as two sets of double technicals were issued, one Vol player was ejected for a flagrant elbow and one Kentucky freshman (Daniel Orton) was sent by his coach to the locker room for a cool-down period after arguing with the staff on the bench.  All in all, just another Kentucky-Tennessee game.

For the Vols, the loss probably slots them as a 4 seed for the Tournament, a tremendous accomplishment for Bruce Pearl's team after the loss of their best player, Tyler Smith.  The Vols were frigid from the field, shooting just 30 percent and only 13 percent from behind the three point line.  They were led with 11 points from Scotty Hopson, who talked trash and gave effort all game, but ultimately fell victim to the Kentucky talent and the fact UT was on its third game in three days.

As for Kentucky, the players said that John Calipari told his team before the game, "dont let them punk you out" and the Cats jumped out early to a lead and never looked back.  Demarcus Cousins led all scorers with 15 points, despite missing ten free throws.  The Cats shot 52 percent for the game and afterwards admitted, in the words of Patrick Patterson, "we really like beating those guys."  They now have one more to win to get an SEC title, and their #1 seed in the tournament is all but assured.

The Cats move on to face the winner of Vanderbilt and Mississippi State, two teams now playing in front of a disinterested crowd of UK fans who feel obligated to stay at the game because they paid so much for their tickets.
Posted on: March 13, 2010 10:27 am

SEC Big Day Ahead


10:30 AM

The toughest ticket in 20 years in the SEC occurs today, as the SEC Semifinals take place in Nashville, Tennessee.  The three best teams in the conference, Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt, are all in the final four and all are within a four-hour drive from Nashville.  Kentucky has approximately 25,000 fans who have travelled here, the vast majority of whom will not even find their way into the arena.  Combine that with the Tennessee and Vandy contingents and it will be as one ticket scalper told me, "a day to make some real money."

As for games themselves, each has distinct subplots that will make the games worth watching,  The Kentucky vs Tennessee matchup puts together two teams that play similar style, are equivalent athletically (a rarity amongst Kentucky opponents) and have a history of great games.  Patrick Patterson said yesterday that he loves playing against the Vols because "they get me focused unlike anyone else.  They talk trash before the game starts, while its going on and it doesnt even matter if they are winning or losing, no matter what."  Tennessee on the other hand loves to not only compete against Kentucky, but Bruce Pearl has been known to throw a few jabs the Big Blue's way such as his comment after the first round fo this tournament that they were shooting threes so bad that "we looked lke Kentucky."

At stake is a birth in the finals, but possibly more importantly for both teams, it is the rubber match of the season series, which is tied at one.  Both teams won on their homecourt and each can make a case they should win here.  Tennessee is playing in its home state but will be the decided underdog from a crowd perspective, as Kentucky fans will make up the significant majority of the crowd.  This game will be a wild scene and unlike anything the SEC has seen in years.

While the first game may be wilder, the Vanderbilt vs Mississippi State game may be more important.  While Vandy is playing for seeding, the Bulldogs still want to get in the NCAA Tournament and it might take a win today over the Commodores to make it happen.  The Bulldogs dominated Florida early and hung on late to get to this point, but this may be their true play-in game for the Tournament.  Vandy won the original meeting between these two teams and will have a crowd advantage on Saturday.  But desperate teams sometimes come up with desperate performances, and that may be just what it takes for the Bulldogs to get a win in their biggest game of the season.

It is going to be wild in Nashville today and elsewhere.  Kansas vs Kansas State in the Big 12, San Diego State trying to make the NCAA Tournament out West and Evan Turner becoming transcendant in the Big 12.  Great day of college basketball awaits:
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com