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Sunday, January 10, 2010
Kansas-Tennessee pregame ponderables

By Brian Bennett

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Greetings from Thompson-Boling Arena, where this afternoon brings a showdown of two Top 15 teams. Well, sort of.

Tennessee may still own a No. 15 ranking, but the Volunteers might not resemble one of the nation's best squads today. This should be a showcase game for the program, which plays host to the No. 1 team in the nation for the first time ever in this building. Instead, Tennessee will get national attention for all the wrong reasons.

Senior Tyler Smith, arguably the team's best all-around player, was dismissed on Friday, and three key reserves remain suspended indefinitely after their Jan. 1 arrest on marijuana and drug charges. The Volunteers are left with just six scholarship players, and though they managed to beat Charlotte 88-71 on Wednesday with that skeleton crew, handling Kansas's deep and talented roster could be another story entirely.

Coach Bruce Pearl will have to break out his best "Rocky" speeches and play up the underdog role. But that lack of depth could become a major factor in a game between two teams who like to get up and down the floor as much as possible.

For the Jayhawks, this is another opportunity to prove they are the best team in the country, especially after Wednesday's too-close-for-comfort 71-66 nailbiter over Cornell at home. This should be the most hostile environment they've faced to date -- this game has been sold out for months -- and coach Bill Self has to be wary of overconfidence by his players in the wake of those Tennessee suspensions.

So there are plenty of story lines for this one. I'll be back with more later.