Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

College Basketball Notebook

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

College Basketball Notebook

Article excerpt

Tennessee brings Tar Heels to town

Tennessee typically isn't a very hospitable host to defending national champions.

A rare sellout crowd will try to make sure that pattern continues Sunday when No. 7 North Carolina faces the 20th-ranked Volunteers in Knoxville for the first time since 1949.

Tennessee has won each of the last five times it has hosted a defending national champion, a stretch that includes victories over Kentucky (in February 1999 and February 2013), Florida (February 2007 and February 2008) and Connecticut (January 2012 ).

Now that they're back in the Top 25 for the first time in seven years , the Vols have a chance to make a statement that they've returned to national relevance. After making the NCAA Tournament six straight times under Bruce Pearl from 2006-11, Tennessee has been back just once in the six years since.

"We want to be a program that's big on everybody's schedule," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. "We don't want to be a program where Tennessee's coming and (it's) no big deal. We want people to know, hey, we have a good basketball program. We're not there yet. We're working to get there, but we're not there yet."

Tennessee is making positive steps in Barnes' third season.

The Vols were picked before the season to finish 13th out of 14 teams in the Southeastern Conference, but they've gotten off to a fast start that includes a road win at Georgia Tech and neutral-site victories over No. 17 Purdue and North Carolina State . Their only loss of the season came when they squandered a 12-point halftime lead over No. 1 Villanova in the Battle 4 Atlantis .

Sunday's game will attract the first capacity crowd at the 21,678-seat Thompson-Boling Arena since a February 2015 loss to Kentucky. It's the first time two ranked men's teams have faced each other in the building since No. 19 Tennessee defeated No. 2 Kentucky on Feb. 27, 2010.

Kentucky schedule gets tougher * Kentucky coach John Calipari hasn't hidden his frustration about the learning curve of his latest group of talented freshmen. …

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