With all due respect to Tom Izzo, he’s about to get Pearl jammed. This year’s eventual winner of the NCAA tournament has been hiding in plain sight.
Tennessee is the answer to the tournament question no one has been asking: "How ’bout them Vols?"
It wasn’t until Tennessee beat Ohio State in the Sweet 16 that the national media began to take notice. Up till then the talk had been about Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse and a handful of Cinderella hopefuls.
Suddenly Bruce Pearl and his power forward/center standout Wayne Chism are getting interviewed together on television. Against Ohio State, Chism carried the Vols on his back with 22 points and 11 rebounds. His gritty ain’t-going-home-yet attitude plays well with a team that has been pounding the ball inside with great success.
Izzo sports a terrific record of accomplishment with his Michigan State Spartans teams over the years. Pearl’s record can’t match that, but just as Pearl and his Vols have broken through the Sweet 16 resistance, this year Pearl will get his due. He adroitly used his bench against Ohio State with great success. A fresh Vols team forced Evan Turner to try and beat them single-handedly. In the second round against Ohio University, the Vols contained the two bomb throwers that knocked Georgetown out of the tournament.
Pearl kept his team from imploding when an off-the-court New Year’s Day episode threatened to unravel the Vols 2009-2010 campaign. When the dust settled, leading scorer Tyler Smith was booted off the team. Center Brian Williams and guards Melvin Goins and Cameron Tatum all were suspended for numerous games.
That would be enough to cripple most programs, yet the Vols find themselves in the Elite Eight. They’ll join Butler and West Virginia in the Final Four, along with the winner of today’s Duke vs. Baylor game.
But a few steps before cutting down the nets in Indianapolis, the Vols first have to get past Michigan State. The No. 1 reason the Vols will beat Michigan State today is because -- other than perhaps Michigan State fans -- the rest of the nation just can’t bear to hear annoying “Sparty” references from television announcers. So it is up to the Spartans to fall on their swords and spare us any more “Sparty” references.