Not Worthy

Nasville,Tn - Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl believes his team was not worthy of its previous Top 10 ranking. Marquette, meanwhile, is making a case to move up in the polls.

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Both schools could use a victory over a marquee opponent to help their cause when the No. 16 Volunteers face the 24th-ranked Golden Eagles on Tuesday night in Nashville as part of the Big East/SEC Invitational.

Oddsmakers from Online Sportsbook have made the Tennessee –7 point spread favorites for Thurday’s game against the Saint Joseph’s. Current College Basketball Public Betting Information shows that 63% of more than 302 bets for this game have been placed on Tennessee –7.

Tennessee (6-2) has struggled a bit losing two of three since beating then-No. 21 Georgetown in the semifinals of the Old Spice Classic in Orlando on Nov. 28. The Vols lost two days later to then-No. 9 Gonzaga in the tournament finals.

After beating North Carolina-Asheville on Dec. 3, Tennessee was ranked eighth heading into Saturday's matchup with Temple, but Owls' star Dionte Christmas scored 35 points to help his team thump the Vols 88-72.

"We're ranked too high,'' Pearl said. "We have a long way to go.

"Our reputation is we're a team that plays hard and (against Temple) I don't think we played that hard,'' Pearl said.

Tennessee, which hasn't lost consecutive regular season games since January 2007, can't afford to take it easy for a second straight contest, especially versus Marquette (8-1). The Golden Eagles have won three in a row since losing to unranked Dayton 89-75 at the Chicago Invitational on Nov. 29.

This is the first meeting between the schools since Dwyane Wade led Marquette to an 85-74 win over Tennessee at the 2001 Great Alaska Shootout.

The Golden Eagles lead 4-2 in the all-time series, but this will be the first time they will face a ranked team this season.

Prior to taking the Tennessee job in 2005, Pearl spent four seasons as coach at Wisconsin-Milwaukee but never faced the crosstown Golden Eagles during that span.

Tennessee certainly provides a serious challenge led junior forward Tyler Smith, who's averaging 17.4 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.6 assists on the season.

Smith had 17 points and Oklahoma transfer Bobby Maze added 15 against Temple for the Vols, who shot 36.5 percent and never led in the contest.

Tennessee is shooting 47.1 percent and averaging 85.3 points on the season, but just 38.5 in its last three games and averaging 73.0 points in the two defeats.

Marquette enjoyed a balanced effort in a 69-50 win over Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne on Saturday. Lazar Hayward had 19 points and a career-high 18 rebounds to draw comparisons with a couple of dominating NBA rebounders.

"I thought Lazar was Ben Wallace on the glass,'' said first-year Marquette coach Buzz Williams of the 6-foot-6 junior who is averaging career highs with 16.1 points and 10.6 rebounds.

"He's similar to Dennis Rodman in regards to the way he follows the flight of the ball as soon as they shoot it. It is almost an innate talent. I don't know that it is something you can teach.''

Jerel McNeal scored 16 points, while leading scorer Wesley Matthews added 13 and nine rebounds for Marquette, which played its best defensive game of the season, allowing its fewest points in nine contests while holding IPFW to 32.2 percent shooting.

This will be the first time both schools will compete in the second-year event.

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Posted: 12/16/08 12:25 PM ET

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