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