Trap time?

Trap time?

Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl goes into tonight's 7:30 tipoff against Middle Tennessee worried about his team being trapped ... not by a trap press but by a trap game.

Coming off a dynamic upset of No. 6 Villanova at historic Madison Square Garden, the 5-0 Vols zoomed from No. 24 to No. 13 in the latest national rankings. If they're still basking in the afterglow of the Villanova victory when they take the floor at Thompson-Boling Arena, however, they could be in for a struggle.

"It's definitely a trap game for us," Pearl said, "because of the excitement of playing at Madison Square Garden, the intensity, the media attention, so on and so forth. It's just human nature. Middle's getting us at a real good time, and they know it."

Kermit Davis' Blue Raiders (3-3) appear somewhat similar to the Missouri State team that pushed Tennessee on Nov. 17 before losing 60-56. Like the Bears, Middle tends to bomb from 3-point range and crash the backboards. The Blue Raiders have made 33.6 percent (37 of 110) of their trey attempts and outrebounded their first six foes by an average of 39.5 to 30.3 per game. The best bomber is 6-foot guard James Washington, who is averaging 16.3 points per game and shooting a sizzling 46.9 percent (15 of 32) from behind the arc.

"They shoot the 3-ball real well," Pearl said. "Washington is a terrific point guard. He's been fantastic for them ... a tough, tough cover.

"They're plus-nine in rebound margin, so it's going to be a very aggressive, physical game on the boards I would imagine."

Tennessee beat its first five foes by limiting them to 35.4-percent shooting from the field, limiting them to 26.8-percent shooting from 3 and wearing them out with depth. Depth may not be an issue vs. Middle, which substitutes just as freely as Tennessee does.

"They play 11 guys, like us," Pearl said. "They have really good depth. They're athletic. I think they're going to be a really good team. They've played us five years in a row, so they know what we do."

Tennessee won all five of those meetings and leads the all-time series 8-1. The Big Orange prevailed 75-54 last season in Nashville, even though Middle broke even 36-all on the backboards.

The Blue Raiders won't be intimidated by facing an SEC team on the road. They gave Auburn quite a scare before losing 68-66 Nov. 21 on The Plains. Still, Tennessee should prevail if it plays with the intensity it showed last week in New York City.

"The Villanova win was good," Pearl said. "It was exciting. It was everything you could imagine it could possibly be in New York ... we had so many stepped-up performances by so many guys.

"But it's over and we've got to move on."

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