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January 9, 2008

Vols hope to hand Ole Miss first loss

MORE: Head-to-Head Breakdown

Ole Miss still might be under the radar nationally how else do you explain being the lowest-ranked of the nation's six remaining undefeated teams? but the Rebels (13-0) have the full attention of Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl.

The Vols (12-1) play host to the Rebels on Wednesday night in the SEC opener for both.

"They look terrific," Pearl said. "(Coach) Andy (Kennedy) has done a wonderful job. In the preseason, they were not picked very high and they're achieving at a high level. They have some great wins and they've played a very good schedule. I like their balance."

Both are balanced, high-scoring teams. Each has four players averaging double figures in scoring, and both are ranked in the top 10 nationally in scoring.

"I like what Ole Miss does," Pearl said. "I think the tempo will be up not crazy fast, but fast. They like to run and so do we."

The Rebels ripped the Vols last season in Oxford 83-69 behind 55 second-half points. The Vols played without Chris Lofton in that game.

Here's a closer look at this season's Rebels-Vols matchup:

No. 16 Ole Miss (13-0) at No. 8 Tennessee (12-1)
Chris Warren vs. Jordan Howell
EDGE: Ole Miss Warren, a 5-foot-10 three-star prospect, has proven to be quite a find at point guard. He is averaging 15.2 points and 5.7 assists, and Pearl called him "spectacular" and a key to the Rebels' success so far. Howell, a 6-3 senior, has stepped into the starting lineup and done nothing but help UT win. He's averaging 7.4 points and 3.2 assists.
Eniel Polynice vs. Chris Lofton
EDGE: Tennessee Polynice, a 6-5 sophomore, is one of the SEC's most-improved players. He's averaging 12.1 points (8.2 more than last season), 5.3 rebounds and 4.2 assists. Lofton, a 6-2 senior and preseason All-American, is the Vols' leading scorer at 14.5 points per game. But he's struggling from the field, shooting just 34.4 percent.
Dwayne Curtis vs. Wayne Chism
EDGE: Ole Miss Curtis, a 6-8 senior, is a beast in the paint. He's third in the SEC in rebounding (8.2 per game), and he's tied for the Rebels' lead in scoring with Warren. Chism, a 6-9 sophomore, will have his hands full and could try to lure Curtis away from the basket. He averages 8.2 points and 4.9 rebounds.
David Huertas vs. JaJuan Smith
EDGE: Tennessee Huertas, a 6-5 sophomore transfer from Florida, has worked his way into the starting lineup and is improving each game. He has scored in double figures in five consecutive games, shooting 50 percent during that stretch. Smith, a 6-2 senior, has been a steady performer for the Vols. He has scored between 13 and 18 points nine times in 13 games.
Kenny Williams vs. Tyler Smith
EDGE: Tennessee Williams, a 6-8 senior, is another veteran frontcourt player for the Rebels. He does plenty of damage in the paint, especially on the boards (8.0 per game, fifth in the SEC). Smith, a 6-7 sophomore transfer from Iowa, is UT's all-around threat. He averages 12.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists.
EDGE: Tennessee Freshman Trevor Gaskins (8.4 points per game) is the Rebels' leader off the bench. He's shooting 45.6 percent from 3-point range. The Vols have one of the deepest teams in the country. J.P. Prince (14.0 points per game) and Ramar Smith (9.2 points per game) lead a bench that has a slew of guys who will play 10-15 minutes.
EDGE: Tennessee Kennedy promised to turn up the tempo this season, and he has done it with great success. He deserves a lot of credit for finding the right pieces to fit his preferred style and for getting veteran players to buy in quickly. Pearl has done a terrific job, too, mixing in transfers Tyler Smith and Prince with four returning starters. He also already has victories this season over West Virginia, Xavier and Gonzaga.
Get ready for fast-paced, end-to-end action. Both teams will pressure the ball on defense, and both want to get out and run. The Rebels are the better rebounding team, and they must take advantage of the play of Curtis and Williams on the inside. The Vols are the deeper team, and they've played a better schedule. Pearl also would love to see Lofton be Lofton, not this impostor who can't shoot straight. Is the Vols' career leader in 3-pointers ready to come to the party?
Tennessee 89, Ole Miss 80

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.

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