Tennessee Volunteers (22-10) vs. Long Beach State 49ers (24-7)
When: Friday, 2:35 p.m.
1. The machines ... they're getting smarter. UT's freshman class has overcome being labeled "The Fab Five" by Knoxville media outlets to become a legitimate driving force on the court. Top-50 recruits Duke Crews, Wayne Chism and Ramar Smith have been particularly effective, finishing the regular season as three of the top five scorers for the Vols. Chism and Crews have split time at center this season, stepping in for dismissed senior Major Wingate, and lead the team in total rebounds. Crews is first in field goal percentage and blocked shots. And when they're on their game, there's not a whole lot you can do to contain them: The trio scored 15 of Tennessee's 22 overtime points in their victory over Texas in December. While the Vols will mourn the departure of beloved senior Dane Bradshaw at the close of tournament play, the continued development of Crews, Chism and Smith will make Tennessee a formidable opponent in the coming seasons.
2. A specter not felt. Coach Bruce Pearl drew national media attention for his shirtless, violently orange presence in the student section at a Lady Vols game in January. (Rumors that Pearl's skin was not, in fact, painted, but permanently dyed from sweating through his orange blazer have been dismissed as vicious conjecture.) Viewers across the country convulsed with laughter, horror or inexplicable arousal, unaware of just how recently they had escaped a similar terror: It seems that, prior to the Vols' first exhibition game on October 31, Pearl was taking suggestions from students for possible Halloween costumes. The most popular idea? Dressing him as Tennessee women's coach Pat Summitt. Mercifully, Pearl declined to combine his superhuman strength with the destructive power of Summit's mind-lasers, preventing certain apocalypse in Tennessee ... for now.
3. That noise. That infernal noise. It's arguably the most hated song in all of college sports. It's revered or despised by the entire known universe. And, oddly, "Rocky Top" isn't even the official Tennessee fight song. (Contrary to widely held belief, nor was it first developed as a neurological weapon.) The Pride of the Southland Marching Band debuted it at a football game in 1972; antennae across the state twitched in primal recognition at the mention of moonshine, and the rest is history. Leave it to an SEC school to abandon the perfectly proper "Down the Field" and adopt an ode to murder and grain alcohol as its anthem. — Holly Anderson
LONG BEACH STATE 49ERS
1. Nixon's The One. NCAA opponents would be wise not to overlook the 49ers in general and senior forward Aaron "Mr. Big Shot" Nixon in particular. After a 74-49 loss to Temple on December 2, Long Beach State has won 22 straight, winning the Big West championship, where Nixon was named Tournament MVP. Nixon was the team's leading scorer in 11 games in the streak, including three games he won on last-second shots. Originally from Ohio, he attended Columbus State before transferring to another JC, San Bernardino Valley College, as a sophomore. "I wasn't sure I was going to graduate from junior college," Nixon said, acknowledging an aversion to studying.
2. Dream Weaver II. Long Beach State is the home of Jered Weaver, now of the Anaheim Angels, who is the younger brother of Jeff Weaver. Jered has the glory of gracing the cover of a sports video game (EA MVP '07). Another Long Beach State "Dirtbags" alum: Jason Giambi.
3. Ouwit, Outplay, Outlast. You may recognize some of these people who have coached at Long Beach State: Jerry Tarkanian and Lute Olson (basketball); George Allen (football); Jon Urbanchek and Don Gambril (swimming). Current pro volleyball player and former 49er volleyball standout John "J.P." Calderon is now a contestant on Survivor. Two other noted alumni: Steven Spielberg and Harold Reynolds. (And yes, Spielberg graduated, although not officially until 2002. So quit griping). — Rick Chandler