Pearl Familiar With Butler - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Carrie Anderson

Pearl Familiar With Butler

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - Sixty wins, four high-scoring guards and

two teams that aren't quite sure they should be meeting so soon.

Tennessee versus Butler has all the mathematics of a

second-weekend NCAA tournament pairing, but they'll meet instead

Sunday in an unprecedented round-2 clash despite resumes that left

both feeling jilted when the seedings were drawn up.

"I think we both did everything we possibly could to put

ourselves in better positions than to see another 30-win team in

the second round," Volunteers coach Bruce Pearl said.

In fact, two 30-win teams have never met in the tournament's

second round, according to the NCAA.

Motivation or old news? Depends on which team you ask.

The second-seeded Volunteers and seventh-seeded (and

11th-ranked) Bulldogs, both with a school-record 30 wins, surely do

have enough to worry about with each other.

"We left the feelings about the seedings in Indiana," Butler

forward Julian Betko said. "I think what we care about now is

which of the teams is going to get to 31 wins."

Once ranked No. 1, the Vols (30-4) feel they made quite a case

for a top seed. Guard JaJuan Smith even had "No. 1 Seed" written

on his sneakers for Friday's game, though all the brackets say

otherwise. Backcourt mate Chris Lofton isn't hesitating to draw on

that perceived snubbing for a small dose of extra incentive, and

expects a similar attitude from Butler.

It's one reason why he predicts "a grind-out, physical game."

"Both teams are playing with a chip on their shoulder," Lofton

said. "We're out to prove something, so it should be a great

game."

One with 3-pointers flying, a frenzied pace if Tennessee has its

way, and battling backcourts.

For all their obvious differences in style, profile and even

enrollment - Tennessee has 27,308 students and Butler 4,400 - the

two teams have much in common, too.

For one, the Vols are known more for football and women's

basketball than men's hoops and Butler is more known for, well, not

being all that well-known.

They are taking a different approach to the perceived seeding

snubs.

"We're not getting into seeding and the number next to our

name," said Brad Stevens, Butler's fresh-faced 31-year-old coach.

"At the end of this tournament, there's just going to be one team

left standing, and the other 64 will have regrets."

Of more pressing concern is guarding the opposing guards.

Tennessee's duo of Smith-and-Lofton has combined for 3,468

career points. Not far behind, Butler counterparts A.J. Graves and

Mike Green have scored 3,408.

"They're two great players and we know what they're capable of

doing," Smith said. "We also want to be in that category. This is

another chance for me and Chris to step up and make a name for

ourselves also."

All that's not even counting Butler's Pete Campbell, who drilled

eight of the Bulldogs' 15 3-pointers in a first-round rout of South

Alabama. Or Tennessee's J.P. Prince, an athletic 6-7 guard who is

sharing time with Ramar Smith and Jordan Howell at the point in a

rare NCAA tournament experiment. He will do so again Sunday, Pearl

said.

The Vols weren't hitting many 3s in beating American, but launch

an average of 25 per game. Lofton especially was shut down, going

0-for-5 on 3-pointers and scoring just five points.

He also managed a subpar eight points before fouling out in last

year's early-season meeting, a 56-44 Butler win.

Pearl didn't want to mess with his senior shooter's psyche with

a sit-down talk, but gave him a more subtle confidence booster.

"I sent Chris a message today in our walk-through by some

things that I want to try to do to get him open," Pearl said

Saturday. "We will call on him again because he's delivered for us

all season long."

Sorry, Butler. It will be hard to sneak up on the Vols after

holding them to a season-low point total last year.

"Last year we overlooked Butler, being from the Horizon

League," Lofton admitted.

He also doesn't think a team from the high-profile Southeastern

Conference has an inherent head-to-head matchup with those

mid-majors these days. After all, six of Butler's eight NCAA

tournament wins have come over higher seeds.

Plus, the Bulldogs gave quite a scare to eventual national

champion Florida in last year's tournament, leading by a point in

the final 4 minutes.

"These mid-majors are really taking over," Lofton said.

"Mid-majors are the future, I think. They're great basketball

teams and they have players that get overlooked."

Pearl knows that as well as most. He led Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Butler's Horizon League rival, to

two wins in the 2005 tournament -

including one over the SEC's Alabama - to help launch him into the

Tennessee job.

Pearl faced Butler nine times between 2001 and 2005, calling the

Bulldogs' style "the most challenging system in basketball" and a

matchup "nightmare." Butler is 24-0 when hitting at least eight

3-pointers.

This is one time when Pearl won't be pulling for the little

guys.

"We all root for mid-majors," he said. "We all root for the

underdog this time of the year. I always do."

But, he added, "Not tomorrow."

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