Tennessee Volunteers (31-4) vs. Louisville Cardinals (26-8)
When: 9:57 p.m.
1. Give 'em the trophy already. Despite the selection committee's best efforts at getting rid of the Vols in the first weekend (seriously, what crack were they smoking putting the brackets together and matching up two Top 10 teams in the second round?), the Vols made it to a second straight Sweet 16. Even though the Vols are the lone SEC school remaining in this year's dance, they have played a whopping 1/3 of the remaining teams. The Vols No. 1 rated non-conference schedule included wins over Memphis, Western Kentucky, Xavier and West Virginia and a loss to Texas, none of which were played in Knoxville. It is easy to assume that this should give Tennessee an advantage the rest of the way, but the committee once again shows it hates orange because all of those teams are on the opposite side of the brackets.
2. There is no "I" in Pearl. Bruce Pearl is the greatest coach in college basketball today. (Ed Note: COUGH!) He single-handedly brought Tennessee to the national forefront in basketball. If you count his last coaching stint, he has coached in three out of the last four Sweet 16s. With all of this success, he has become the man the other teams love to hate. Whether it is breaking out the orange blazer for the Kentucky and Vanderbilt games, going Hulk-a-maniac on his shirt in the locker room after a big win, or painting his upper body orange for a Lady Vols game, the opposing fans love to hate by claiming that he is a grandstanding egomaniac. That is far from the truth. Bruce Pearl's antics did nothing but bring much needed attention to the forgotten program in Knoxville, the men's basketball team. The men's attendance is now finishing in the top five nationally, and for the first time in 25 years the men's team was ranked higher than the Lady Vols (who just got another 1 seed in the ladies tourney). Under Pearl's reign, the team has also just completed a second straight undefeated season at home, and in the three seasons since Pearl has arrived on campus they are 45-2 in Thompson-Boling Arena. His philosophy of "anybody, anytime, anywhere" combined with his mantra of "passion, poise, purpose" have Tennessee on the verge of making it past the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history.
3. Stephen Curry is no Chris Lofton. With three three-pointers against Butler, Chris Lofton broke his own school record for most threes in a season with 116 on the year. In fact, he has four of the top five single-season marks at Tennessee. Lofton also became the SEC's career leader in threes against Kentucky earlier in the season. Chris needs seven more threes to pass Keydren Clark for second on the NCAA's all-time three point leaders. An interesting side story here that I don't think has gotten nearly enough press (and by nearly enough I mean please stop talking about it) is that despite being named Mr. Basketball in 2004 in Kentucky, he was not recruited by either the University of Kentucky or the University of Louisville. Tennessee fans cannot thank the state of Kentucky more for not giving him a chance. Lofton gave his thanks back in his Senior Day video when every highlight was a shot he hit against Kentucky and at the close of the video he thanked the Tennessee fans for believing in him. — Matthew Payne
1. Character Issue. Sophomore Derrick Caracter is one of most talented players on the Cardinal steam, but the man is still plagued by "character issues." After already being suspended for the first 16 games of the season for personal reasons, Caracter figured that the appropriate time to announce that he was leaving school early for the NBA was the before the team played Tennessee in the Sweet 16. I guess nothing like an appearance in the Sweet 16 to bring the team together.
2. Padgett. A preseason top 10 squad, the Cardinals started the year off with four bad losses that caused nearly everyone to jump off bandwagon by Christmas. Part of problem was the absence of team leader David Padgett, who had to sit out until January thanks to a knee injury. With Padgett back to take control of the team, the Cardinals finally started living up to the preseason hype, winning 17 of their last 21 games.
3. Trail Blazer. It has become common in recent years to see fiery coaches on the sidelines decked out in solid-color blazers, including Bruce Pearl's Dreamsicle look, Bob Huggins' head-to-toe gold and Sidney Lowe's "Hey Koolaid" flaming red at N.C. State. But before any of these cats ever dreamed of blowing out your HD liquid crystal display, Louisville coach Denny Crum rocked the Cardinal blazer at Louisville. His distinctive style was only part of what made him a legend, however. He also led Louisville to six Final Fours, two of which turned into National Championships. — Storming The Floor