Pearl power

Michigan State's Tom Izzo is one of college basketball's most respected coaches - and with good reason.

A four-time National Coach of the Year, his first 15 years at the helm have seen him guide the Spartans to 13 NCAA Tournaments, nine Sweet 16s, seven Elite Eights and five Final Fours. He reached NCAA title games in 2000 and 2009, winning the championship in 2000.

Amazingly, Izzo's 75.6 winning percentage (34 wins, 11 losses) in NCAA Tournament play is even higher than his overall winning percentage of 71.5 (363 wins, 145 losses). Only one NCAA coach with 10 or more NCAA Tournament games under his belt has a better winning percentage at The Dance - Duke's Mike Krzyzewski at .773.

His opponent in today's Midwest Regional final, Tennessee's Bruce Pearl, has never coached in a Div. 1 Final Four. In fact, today will be his first appearance at a Div. 1 Elite Eight.

Is Pearl in over his head? Don't bet on it. The Vol coach may be a newcomer to college basketball's royal ranks but his resume' makes clear that he can go toe-to-toe with the game's best.

Consider:

- Despite limited NCAA Tournament experience at the Div. I level, Pearl also has shown he can boogey at The Dance. He stands 8-4 at Tennessee, accounting for precisely half of the program's 16 NCAA Tournament victories. Counting a 2-2 mark at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, he has a 10-6 overall record in tourney play. As head man at Southern Indiana, Pearl went 16-8 in Div. II NCAA Tournament play with a national title in 1995.

- Pearl led Tennessee to a 3-2 record against teams ranked in the top five nationally this year - beating No. 1 Kansas (76-68), No. 2 Kentucky (74-65) and No. 5 Ohio State (76-73). Both losses came against Kentucky - one in Lexington and the other in the SEC Tournament semifinals at Nashville.

- Pearl has proven this season that he is no one-trick pony. Although best known for his high-scoring offenses, his 2010 Vols are winning with defense. They limited Ohio State to 43.1 percent shooting in Friday night's Sweet-16 matchup and have held all of this season's opponents to an average of less than 40 percent per game.

- If Pearl defeats Izzo's Spartans today, the Vol coach will have beaten four coaches THIS SEASON who have national titles to their credit. He already toppled Kansas' Bill Self (2008), Florida's Billy Donovan (2006, 2007) and San Diego State's Steve Fisher (1989 at Michigan).

In addition, Pearl has beaten two coaches this season who coached NCAA runnerup teams - Kentucky's John Calipari (2008 at Memphis) and Ohio State's Thad Matta (2007).

Izzo may bring the loftier reputation into today's game but Pearl has a resume' that suggests he can run with the big dogs.

This afternoon's tipoff is set for 1:20 Central time at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. CBS will televise.

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