USC men’s basketball: Tennessee pregame

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A steady stream of Tennessee fans clad in orange and white is streaming into the Galen Center, where the USC men’s basketball team (4-4) will take on the No. 9 Volunteers (8-1) this afternoon.

Tennessee returns five starters from a team that finished 21-13, finished first in the Southeastern Conference East division, and advanced to the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the fourth straight year the Vols have made it to the Big Dance.

A few pregame nuggets to munch on while we wait for tipoff (1:30 p.m. -- televised on Fox Sports Net, radio broadcast on 710 AM):

USC player to watch: point guard Mike Gerrity

USC gets the former Mater Dei star back after he was granted a waiver by the NCAA to become eligible Friday. Gerrity had transferred twice before -- from Pepperdine to Charlotte and from Charlotte to USC -- and is now at his third college in five years. He hasn’t played in nearly two years, which makes USC Coach Kevin O’Neill ‘very concerned,’ but Gerrity said he should be fine.

Analysis: What does having Gerrity back mean?

USC is short bodies after three players decided to go pro after last season and five recruits bailed in the off-season. It got worse when forward Kasey Cunningham‘s season ended with a knee injury against Loyola Marymount earlier this year. But having Gerrity back not only gives USC a true point guard, which O’Neill said the team is lacking because Donte Smith is more of a combo guard, but it provides a skilled ball-handler who likes to play up-tempo basketball.


Tennessee player to watch: A tough choice, but lets go with forward Tyler Smith

Smith spurned a chance to go pro last year to come back and work on his jump shot and ball-handling, and O’Neill said he may be one of three Vols to be drafted in the first round this season. Athlon Sports rated him he nation’s third best ‘inside out’ threat, and Lindy’stabbed him as the SEC’s ‘most versatile’ player. Smith is averaging 12.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and leads the team with 4.1 assists.

Through Sunday, Smith ranked second in the nation in assist/turnover radio (4.1), and is only one of two players 6-feet-6 or taller in the top 50 nationally in that category. (Smith is 6-feet-7, 215 pounds.) Unlike the rest of the Vols, who are known to launch it from three-point range as often as possible (the team averages 7.9 treys per game), Smith likes to get to the basket.

-- Baxter Holmes