College Sports

Vols gear up for showdown vs. No. 1 Memphis

Once Wednesday's win over Auburn was over, No. 2 Tennessee could finally look forward to a date circled on the calendar since preseason -- Saturday at Memphis.

"I compliment the folks on ESPN on looking at this game back in the beginning as a site for 'College GameDay,'" UT coach Bruce Pearl said. "That's usually reserved for Tobacco Road or somewhere in Indiana."

In the preseason, most experts figured the game would be a strong one, with the Volunteers clearly the class of the SEC and the Tigers steadily blossoming into one of the nation's powers. The game got more oomph added to it when Memphis attained the nation's No. 1 ranking.

The Tigers (26-0) are the only undefeated NCAA Division I team in the country and when the Vols (24-2) rose to the nation's No. 2 spot earlier this week, it became the season's first No. 1-No. 2 matchup and first since Feb. 25, 2007, when Ohio State beat top-ranked Wisconsin.

It's an exciting time to be playing basketball in the Volunteer state, with three teams in the Top 25 (No. 20 Vanderbilt is also on the list), including the top two. Tennessee's accomplishments are tied with California (No. 6 UCLA, No. 9 Stanford, No. 23 St. Mary's), just under Indiana's (No. 8 Butler, No. 14 Purdue, No. 15 Indiana, No. 21 Notre Dame).

Pearl said he never dreamed the matchup with Memphis would be No. 1-No. 2 when it was scheduled, only that it would be a Top 25 affair. The only problem is UT (11-1 SEC) has to get past that game, then turn around and play at Vanderbilt (22-4, 7-4) on Tuesday.

Should the Vols win, they'll step closer to securing their first outright SEC regular-season title since 1967.

"This is as formidable as anything we'll see in the round of Sweet 16 or Elite Eight," Pearl said. "But then we've got to be ready to go to Vanderbilt and win an SEC championship."

• SLIPPING AWAY?: Ole Miss (18-7, 4-7) might have reclaimed its season on Wednesday, beating rival Mississippi State 74-63 and derailing -- at least, temporarily -- the Bulldogs' run for the SEC West crown.

"It was big for us," coach Andy Kennedy said. "I remember when we were something like 15-1 or 15-2 that I was thinking we just weren't really playing as well as we could."

MSU (17-8, 8-3) would have had a commanding lead with a win, but instead fell back to a one-game advantage over Arkansas (18-7, 7-4). The Rebels, who host league-worst LSU on Saturday, are hoping the win was a boost to get their sagging NCAA tournament hopes up.

• BAD TIDINGS: As if the mood at LSU weren't sour enough, with the firing of coach John Brady and interim coach Butch Pierre not sure of his status after this year, the Tigers' lone highlight is nursing a hip injury.

Guard Marcus Thornton, the league's fourth-leading scorer at 18.4 points per game, only played four minutes in Wednesday's loss to Arkansas. Pierre said Thursday that Thornton picked up a hip pointer last week, then felt something pull in his hip during practice.

"He didn't even practice for two days," Pierre said. "Right now, he's getting treatment. Whatever our trainer tells us, that's what we'll go with the next couple of days."

• SEC LEGENDS: Chick-fil-A announced its 2008 class of SEC hoops legends, to be recognized at the SEC tournament.

This year's group is made up of Alabama's Leon Marlaire, Arkansas' Corliss Williamson, Auburn's Wesley Person, Florida's Dan Cross, Georgia coach Hugh Durham, Kentucky's Kyle Macy, LSU's Frank Brian, Ole Miss' Joe Harvell, Mississippi State's Wiley Peck, South Carolina's Ronnie Collins, Tennessee's Bernard King and Vanderbilt's Barry Goheen.

• HE SAID IT: "I don't know how you get to know people with those blueberries, that kind of thing. Blackberries, greenberries, whatever."

-- USC coach Dave Odom, on how modern technology has influenced recruiting.

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