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Tennessee Prepping For Life Without Pearl

The Tennessee basketball team will host cross-state rival Memphis tomorrow night at Thompson-Boling Arena.  It will be the last time Bruce Pearl sits on the Vols’ bench for 17 days.  UT’s coach will begin his eight-game SEC suspension on Saturday when the Volunteers travel to Arkansas. 

And his departure could not come at a worse time for his team.

In the preseason, Tennessee lost an exhibition game to Division II Indianapolis.  That should have served as a warning sign to all in orange.  Instead, most assumed that the game would simply serve as a wake-up call for a UT team brimming with newcomers.  As the Vols rolled off seven straight victories, won the preseason NIT, beat Villanova and Pittsburgh away from home, and climbed to #1 in the RPI ratings… that assessment appeared to be correct.

But then things changed.

Since December 14th, Tennessee has looked much more like the team that lost to Indianapolis than the team that defeated ‘Nova and Pitt.  The Vols have dropped four of six games including losses to Oakland, Charlotte, Southern Cal and College of Charleston (by 13 points at home).  Their wins in that stretch were a one-pointer over Belmont and a six-pointer over UT-Martin.  UTM had lost 100-40 to Ohio State in its previous outing.

Pearl has admitted that he’s struggled to find a good rotation for his team.  With no consistency on either end of the floor, the UT staff has decided this week that they will begin to hand out playing time based on defensive effort first and foremost.  Sounds like a smart move, but Pearl won’t on the bench often as the plan is implemented.

Congrats (that’s sarcasm) to assistant coach Tony Jones who’ll take over at a time when no one knows for sure which Vols should be on the court together.  Talk about inheriting a mess.

Here’s the schedule UT and Jones will be up against:

Memphis (with Pearl)
At Arkansas
at Georgia
at UConn (with Pearl)
at Ole Miss
at Auburn

Pearl will return full-time to UT’s bench on February 8th at Kentucky.  By the time he returns, the Vols (currently 9-4) might need a miracle run to reach their sixth straight NCAA tourney.

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SEC Headlines – 12/29/10 Part Two

1.  Anybody else tired as hell of hearing about Florida’s offense?  If not, here’s more speculation over what UF might do to tweak things on Saturday.

2.  Will Muschamp is laying low this week to allow Urban Meyer to enjoy the spotlight.

3.  Cornerback Janoris Jenkins played most of the season with a torn labrum.

4.  Current defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was briefly hospitalized with gastritis pains yesterday.  He is one of the leading candidates to take over as Texas’ next defensive coordinator.

5.  Georgia’s offensive line could look a lot different in 2011.

6.  Several Dawgs are still deciding whether to turn pro or return for their senior seasons.

7.  AJ Green says the good of 2010 “outweighed the bad, definitely.”  Green missed four games for selling a jersey and his team finished 6-6.

8.  UGA and Ohio State have agreed to play a home-and-home series in 2020 and 2021.

9.  Georgia’s basketball team dismantled Charleston Southern 70-55 last night.

10.  Darius Miller led Kentucky to a 91-61 rout of Coppin State last night.

11.  UK toyed with a zone defense last night… in preparation for — possibly — trying to slow down Louisville on Friday.

12.  This writer brings the Gospel when he says UK and Louisville fans hear what they want to hear in media coverage.  (Try covering 12 schools, Eric.)

13.  Some former bowl-winners at South Carolina — and there aren’t many of them — say that winning a bowl gives a team more credibility.

14.  Former walk-on kicker Spencer Lanning will leave USC as a team captain.

15.  As we’ve already written today, Carolina should be motivated for the Chick-fil-A Bowl, but not even Steve Spurrier knows if his team will be.

16.  Spurrier is already opening the door to a Stephen Garcia/Connor Shaw battle next spring.

17.  Senior receiver Gerald Jones has been a vocal leader for Tennessee.

18.  Freshman receiver Da’Rick Rogers has impressed some Vol veterans.

19.  Converted receiver Marsalis Teague did “a phenomenal job” in moving to cornerback this season.

20.  Bruce Pearl said a fiery, contentious practice session yesterday was fine… “if it can cleanse us, but let’s make sure Tennessee-Martin is the opponent.”  The Vols host UTM tonight.

21.  I’m guessing Vanderbilt fans won’t like the fact that a Knoxville writer found few people in Nashville who could actually name the Commodores’ new football coach.

(And to think, it was just a couple of weeks ago that we at were getting ripped by some VU fans for daring to suggest that Vandy’s long track record of failure would prevent the school from landing a big-name coach.)

22.  Kevin Stallings is waiting for the NCAA to rule forward Lance Goulbourne eligible again… after the governing body learned that he had purchased a parking pass in 2009 from a team manager.  (That’s apparently a no-no.)

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