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Orlando Classic Preview

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The Vols head to the Magic Kingdom for three games in four days.

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes when external turmoil surrounds a team, the best thing you can do is just go play in hopes of making winning the story.  The Vols will get three chances to do just that in the next four days, but a strong field in Orlando makes turning this weekend into a positive a tall task.

The opening bout should be the easiest one:  the Vols face Santa Clara today at noon on ESPN2.  The Broncos are 2-2 on the year with wins over Cal State Fullerton and San Diego Christian before falling at Utah State and most recently at Michigan State, trailing 40-14 at halftime before losing 79-52.  Santa Clara was 14-19 last year, 6-12 in the West Coast Conference.  They did win the CBI postseason tournament two years ago.  Point guard Brandon Clark currently leads the way with 17.5 points and 5.5 assists per game.  Fellow guard Jared Brownridge also averages double figures at 12.0 per game.  The Broncos have three true freshmen averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

The Vols will likely be the favorites in few contests this year, and today is one of them.  Tennessee is getting 5.5 points on a neutral floor and won't have a better opportunity in Orlando.  If the Vols do take care of business, they'll likely face #11 Kansas on Friday.  The Jayhawks have a pair of double-digit wins over UC-Santa Barbara and Rider, but their current claim to fame is getting beat by 32 by this year's Kentucky juggernaut.  Kansas lost much of its star power from last season but still has Perry Ellis; despite the state of affairs in Knoxville, beating Tennessee would be the biggest opportunity to right the ship the Jayhawks have had since being embarrassed by Kentucky.  ButRhode Island may actually be a bigger challenge; the Rams are 3-0 and upset #21 Nebraska in overtime.  Rhode Island was 14-18 last year.

The tournament takes Saturday off before its final games tip-off on Sunday.  On the other side of the bracket:

  • #20 Michigan State is 3-1 with a 10 point loss to Duke
  • Rider is 2-2 with wins over Penn and Lehigh.  Also the Broncos, they were 14-17 last year.
  • Marquette is 2-2 with an 11 point loss at Ohio State and a stunning 97-89 loss to Omaha (I can't say that word regularly anymore)
  • Georgia Tech beat Georgia in the opener and is 3-0.
I would be interested to see the Vols against Marquette or Georgia Tech on Sunday.  At minimum Tennessee needs to win today.  But if the Vols came back from Orlando 2-1 no matter who they faced, it would be a successful weekend.  And of course, if it is Kansas tomorrow, it would be another big opportunity for Donnie Tyndall to build momentum and begin to build a relationship with the Tennessee fanbase on a foundation other than uncertainty.  It will take a big win for many in the fanbase to invest themselves in this team.  And it will take a big effort to get the job done against a foe like Kansas.

First thing's first:  Tennessee can make themselves the story, at least for a day, by getting off to a good start against Santa Clara.