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Preview: Vols vs. Arkansas

SEC Tournament — First Round
7:30 p.m. (EST) Thursday
Atlanta
Georgia Dome
TV: SEC Network

TENNESSEE vs. ARKANSAS

LINEUPS

ARKANSAS (18-12, 7-9 SEC)
Probable starters
G Julysses Nobles (6-1, Fr., 8.4 ppg/2.8 rpg)
G Rotnei Clarke (6-0, Jr., 15.1 ppg/3.1 rpg)
G Marcus Britt (6-3, Sr., 5.3 ppg/2.0 rpg)
F Marshawn Powell (6-7, So., 11.1 ppg/4.7 rpg)
F Delvon Johnson (6-9, Sr., 9.4 ppg/7.2 rpg)
Off the bench
G Jeff Peterson (6-0, Jr., 6.5 ppg/2.3 rpg)
F Glenn Bryant (6-7, So., 4.2 ppg/3.1 rpg)
G Mardracus Wade (6-2, Fr., 3.9 ppg/1.1 rpg)
F Michael Sanchez (6-8, Jr., 3.3 ppg/2.3 rpg)
G Rickey Scott (6-3, Fr., 3.3 ppg/1.1 rpg)
F Jemal Farmer (6-5, Sr., 3.2 ppg/1.2 rpg)
COACH: John Pelphrey (69-58 in 2nd season, 149-125 overall)

TENNESSEE (18-13, 8-8 SEC)
Probable starters
G Melvin Goins (5-11, Sr., 8.0 ppg/3.2 rpg)
G Scotty Hopson (6-7, Jr., 17.7 ppg/3.4 rpg)
G Cameron Tatum (6-6, Jr., 9.4 ppg/3.3 rpg)
F Tobias Harris (6-8, Fr., 14.7 ppg/7.5 rpg)
C John Fields (6-9, Sr., 2.8 ppg/3.2 rpg)
Off the bench
C Brian Williams (6-10, Sr., 7.0 ppg/7.5rpg)
G Josh Bone (6-3, Sr., 3.1 ppg/1.9 rpg)
F Jeronne Maymon (6-7, So., 2.8 ppg/2.8 rpg)
G Trae Golden (6-1, Fr., 3.0 ppg/1.2 rpg)
G Skylar McBee (6-3, So., 2.8 ppg/1.0 rpg)
F Kenny Hall (6-9, So., 2.0 ppg/1.6 rpg)
F Steven Pearl (6-5, Sr., 1.8 ppg/1.5 rpg)
COACH: Bruce Pearl (144-59 in 6th season, 461-143 overall)

STORYLINES: Tennessee hoped to miss the first round of this season’s SEC tournament, but the Vols lost the opening-day bye to Kentucky by losing a home game against the Wildcats on Sunday. UT is probably in the NCAA tournament regardless — nearly every “bracketologist” seems to think so, anyway — but the Vols would do well to win today and remove all doubt. UT has advanced to at least the semifinal round the past three years in this tournament, but they only played one first-round game in that stretch — a 59-49 win over LSU last season in Nashville. Williams should return to the rotation today after missing the past two games with an unspecified back injury, but coaches don’t expect his health or his conditioning to be 100 percent. Pearl was asked about Williams — the SEC’s sixth man of the year — on Wednesday and said, “I don't know how much he'll play in that first game or when exactly he'll get his first rotation, but it won't be like before he was out. But I would anticipate that he'll play. What will he bring? It's amazing sometimes what a couple of weeks off can do to your timing, and to your conditioning. But Brian brings some toughness and some defense, some rebounding, brings a presence to us, and we certainly will look forward to having him back some. And if he plays well in his rotations, he can play more.”

ABOUT THE OPPONENT: Arkansas, which held off hard-charging UT for a 68-65 win in Fayeteville on Jan. 8, sat on or around the .500 mark all SEC season. The Razorbacks finished 7-9 in conference play, never winning more than two consecutive games and never losing more than three consecutive games. The Razorbacks, like the Vols, have proven scorers at shooting guard (Clarke) and power forward (Powell) who are surrounded by role players who haven’t consistently performed well. Johnson, a shot-blocking force who was named to the All-SEC defensive team, is a streaky scorer who has gone long stretches without reaching double digits but also scored 25 points at Ole Miss, 20 against Troy, 17 against Tennessee, 16 at South Carolina and 14 against Alabama. Nobles averages 8.4 points per game but reached double figures in just five of the Hogs’ 16 SEC games, and he barely has more assists (90) than turnovers (76). Britt reached double figures just three times in SEC games but has played much better the past few weeks and hit a shot late in overtime to beat Kentucky on Feb. 23. Peterson had been a starter until injuring his groin on Feb. 26 against Auburn, but he practiced Wednesday night and might be cleared to play today. Sanchez, a highly touted recruit three years ago, has played big in some games for Arkansas but been non-existent in others.

FREE THROWS: UT has won four of its past five SEC tournament games against Western Division opponents. ...The Vols have been the East’s No. 5 seed once since the league broke into two division. That was in 1995, and they beat West No. 4 seed Arkansas, 65-46, in a first-round game. ...Harris is fourth in scoring and fifth in rebounding among freshmen from the nation’s biggest six conferences. Harris, Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger and Kentucky’s Terrence Jones are the only three freshmen ranked in the top five in both categories. ...Arkansas is one of the six teams (in 31 games) to outscore UT in the paint this season. ...The Vols’ bench outscored their counterparts in 12 of UT’s 16 SEC games this season. ...Arkansas and Tennessee have met seven times on neutral courts, and the Hogs hold a 4-3 edge — 2-2 in the SEC tournament, and 2-1 in other games. ...The Vols have won eight of their past 12 games against Arkansas but still hold just a slight 15-13 lead in the all-time series. ...Jimmy England will be UT’s SEC Legend at this week’s tournament. England, a guard, was a two-time All-SEC performer who was also named All-America as a senior in 1971.

Contact Wes Rucker at wrucker@247sports.com, www.twitter.com/wesrucker247 or www.facebook.com/wesrucker247

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