Tennessee Basketball: He's Back, Bruce Pearl Back on Track for UConn Showdown

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Tennessee Basketball:  He's Back, Bruce Pearl Back on Track for UConn Showdown
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Tennessee Head Coach has four down and four to go in his eight-game SEC suspension.

Saturday afternoon in Hartford, head coach Bruce Pearl gets off the couch and back in action, albeit for only one game sandwiched in the middle of his eight-game SEC suspension.

Tennessee (12-6, 2-2 SEC) will take on their third Big East power of the season when eighth-ranked UCONN (15-2, 4-2 Big East) host the Vols in Hartford's XL Center.  Tip-off is set for 2:00 PM and will be nationally televised by CBS.

Pearl was suspended for eight games by SEC Commissioner Mike Slive on November 19, 2010 for lying to NCAA investigators during their investigation into recruiting violations.

The violations surround improper phone contact with recruits and a BBQ event at Pearl's home in which he hosted several high school recruits.  When confronted with the allegations, Pearl initially lied to NCAA investigators before later correcting the record.

Prior to the eight-game SEC suspension, Tennessee A.D. Mike Hamilton handed down a one-year off-campus recruiting ban to Pearl and cut the charismatic coach's salary by 1.5 million over five years.  Currently, Pearl is working without a signed contract while negotiations with the university continue.

The investigation of Pearl and the men's basketball program continues and Tennessee expects to hear from the NCAA in the coming months.  Further sanctions are almost certainly on the way from the governing body.

Nick Laham/Getty Images
Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl back for Saturday's game at UCONN.

Pearl last roamed the court on January 8th when the Vols gave him a nice going away gift with a 104-84 victory over in-state rival Memphis.

In Pearl's absence, assistant coach Tony Jones has handled the sideline duties and has guided the Vols to a 2-2 record. 

Jones and the Vols lost to Arkansas on the road, then suffered an overtime loss to Florida at home, but have since rebounded with successive wins over Vandy in Knoxville and Georgia in Athens.

Jones resumes his duty as acting head coach on Wednesday, January 26th, as the SEC schedule picks back up when LSU visits Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville.

Tennessee began the season like a house of fire, sprinting out to a 7-0 record with key wins over Villanova and Pittsburgh before hitting the skids, going just 5-6 since.  A win over the Huskies would put the Vols at 3-0 over Big East perennial powers and would help ensure Tennessee a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

UConn, led by coach Jim Calhoun, is off to a 15-2 start in large part due to the play of  Player of the Year candidate, Kemba Walker.

The 6'1" junior guard from the Bronx has been a staple on high-lite reels, leading the Huskies in scoring (25.5 ppg), assists (3.8 pg), steals (2.2 pg), three-pointers (37) and free throw percentage (84 percent).

Nick Laham/Getty Images
Scotty Hopson scores 18 in Tennessee's win over Villanova.

The Vols are led by 6'7" junior guard Scotty Hopson who has been on a roll of late, scoring at least 15 points in each of his last eight games.  For the year, Hopson is averaging 16.4 ppg and leads the Vols with 27 three-pointers.  In the two wins over Big East opponents, Hopson has stepped up his game, averaging 22.5 ppg.

The Vols and Huskies have only met on one previous occasion in the 2000 NCAA Tournament with the Vols taking a 65-51 victory to advance to the Sweet 16.

 

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