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Great Time To Be A Basketball Fan In Tennessee

Posted by Ryne E. Hancock on December 10, 2007

Last season, the state of Tennessee rejoiced as each Grand Division was well-represented by one school in the NCAA Tournament’s “Sweet 16” as Memphis, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee made the round of 16, which ranks as one of the rare times in this state’s history that three teams from the Volunteer State accomplished that feat in the same season.

And although the Tigers again carried the banner of the state by advancing to the Elite Eight for the second year in a row, the incredible season of basketball in the Volunteer State was supposed to be nothing more than a once-in-a-lifetime event.

But so far this year, the Vols, Tigers, and Commodores are again giving basketball fans in the state something to cheer about as the three schools are ranked in the top 25 and are a combined 24-1 at the end of action on Sunday.

Not to mention that one of my former classmates at Southwest, Lester Hudson, who is now at Tennessee-Martin is among the nation’s leaders in scoring at 26.4 points per game and was the focal point of a recent story that ran in the Commercial Appeal last week.

For Tennessee, who is the odds-on favorite to win the SEC East, the key to their success is the play of senior standout Chris Lofton, who along with JaJuan Smith, had a hand in denying UT-Chattanooga’s chance at an upset bid last Tuesday in Chattanooga by scoring 16 and 13, respectively. Not only that, sophomore Wayne Chism is quickly emerging into one of the premier big men in the SEC by leading the team in rebounds and blocks.

Vanderbilt’s success this year came as bit of a surprise after losing former Ridgeway standout Derrick Byars to the NBA, who along with Shan Foster led the Commodores to the Sweet 16 last season. Although Foster returned to West End Avenue, the cupboard for the most part according to many SEC basketball experts was bare, save for the emergence of LSU transfer Ross Neltner, who gained valuable playing time last year off the bench.

But despite the loss of a few key players for Vanderbilt, the Commodores are again off to another great start on West End Avenue, bringing their record to 9-0 after beating neighborhood rival Lipscomb on Saturday night at Memorial Gym thanks in part to the play of A.J. Oglivy and Foster.

Next up for the ‘Dores will be a trip to Chicago to face a pissed-off DePaul squad that got crushed by an excellent Kansas team at Allen Fieldhouse and then a break from the season to take finals and prep up for the start of the conference portion of the season with games against another crosstown foe in Tennessee State and a showdown against Lester Hudson and Tennessee-Martin four days after Christmas.

In West Tennessee, the Tigers are the talk of the nation thanks in part to the play of super-freshmen Derrick Rose who has lived up to the preseason hype as the Tigers are #2 in the nation and 7-0 going into their game with Middle Tennessee on Saturday afternoon in Nashville, which will be a mismatch on paper as the Blue Raiders sit at 2-5 on the season and is need of something to turn the season around before the start of conference play.

If Memphis laxes against the Blue Raiders, chances are the Tigers could be upset if they don’t play with the level of intensity that Calipari has preached about since their lackluster showing against Arkansas State before Thanksgiving.

But given the way they’ve played against USC, that seems to be a far-fetched idea that is only a product of my imagination.

Then again, you never know.

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