Four days after beating #7 Villanova to win the NIT Season Tip-Off, the Vols return home to face MTSU. The Nova game was validation for this team, who jumped to #13 in the AP poll this week, and also proved that they could handle any distraction that Bruce Pearl's situation may present. On the other side of the MTSU game is an eleven day break for final exams, and at the end of that break is another huge test at #3 Pittsburgh. Sandwiched between games against Top 10 Big East foes, with a long break coming and the team already feeling good about themselves? Admiral Ackbar to the bridge...
Don't listen to me, listen to Bruce:
"It’s a complete trap game," Pearl said. "It’s a total, 100 percent trap game, and you talk about that with the players. You point to some different teams that had huge wins in their [Thanksgiving week] tournaments, and then they came home and played a very good team, but maybe not a team like Villanova.
"Middle Tennessee State is a good team, and they’ve got a chance to be a really good team this year. I like their personnel, and I love what they do. They’re hard to guard. They’re very multiple in their ball screen stuff. They’ve got a lot of offense in, and I know with a week to prepare he’ll have a lot of different things in there. So we’ve got to focus on our principles."
MTSU is 3-3, but they lost to UAB and Auburn by a combined seven points. And the Evansville squad that just won at Butler over the weekend? Middle beat them by 12.
Don't be fooled because the Vols beat this team by 21 last year. Middle shot 17% from three and 55% from the stripe in that game - you can't count on those numbers again. That team rebounded to make the CIT Tournament last year, and is led this year by senior guard James Washington III (16.3 points per, 46.9% from three) and sophomore forward Jason Jones (averaging a 10-4).
Tennessee is more talented, no doubt...but this team would do well to remember the exhibition loss to Indianapolis for the rest of the year. We've already seen one in-state foe give the Vols a run for their money, and the Blue Raiders will be eager to do the same. We've seen this team beat one of the nation's best, and play consistent basketball to win four games in a tournament. Now let's see how they handle success - you don't want to face an eleven day break after a loss to a Sun Belt foe.
7:30 PM - Fox Sports South. As always, you can follow along live with us in our Game Thread later tonight.