KNOXVILLE -- Glancing quickly at the Southeastern Conference basketball standings, Georgia doesn't seem so different from the past few seasons.
Eight wins and eight losses. Three losses in three SEC games.
Not so fast, Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said several times this week.
"This team is playing with a completely different confidence level," Pearl said. "This is a really good team. You'll see."
Georgia is indeed 0-3 in SEC play, but it's already visited preseason favorites Kentucky and Mississippi State and could easily be 3-0.
The Bulldogs trailed by one possession in the final minute at UK's Rupp Arena. They had a 13-point lead at Mississippi State with four minutes left. They lost to Ole Miss when an inbounds pass defender turned his head and allowed an easy bucket with 13 seconds left.
In other words, Pearl strongly disagrees with the notion that his eighth-ranked Vols' 5 p.m. visit to Stegeman Coliseum is a "trap game."
"This is not a trap game -- no, no, no, no, no," Pearl said. "I was wrong earlier in the season when I didn't think they were an NCAA tournament team. I was wrong. They were picked to finish last in our league, and I don't think they will."
UT's coaches and players, to a man, said Georgia's frontcourt is one of the SEC's biggest and best. Pearl said Trey Thompkins is "either the best post in our league, or one of the best."
"He's leaner and meaner than last year," Pearl said of the 6-foot-10 sophomore.
Meanwhile, the Vols are simply lean in the post, despite senior Wayne Chism showing what a force he can be on both ends of the floor.
UT also has gotten a big offensive and defensive boost from skinny, 6-8 freshman forward Kenny Hall. Aside from Chism and Hall, though, the Vols don't have much size or depth on the interior. Sophomore Renaldo Woolridge is 6-8, but he's a natural wing who just recently moved to the post.
"Georgia has good size, so Kenny's going to be in there starting in the post," said Woolridge, who has started every game since four teammates were suspended on Jan. 1. "When I get in there, too, we're just going to have to match their aggressiveness on the glass. They're a veteran team. They do have some young guys, but they're playing together and starting to come into their own as a program.
"We're going to treat them like we would any respectable opponent."
That's a good idea, said Hall, an Atlanta-area native who has tangled with all four Georgia big men in recent years.
"I've worked out with Trey Thompkins before a few times, so I know him a little bit, and he's a great player," Hall said. "I know big Jeremy (Price). He's from Decatur, not too far from where I live. And Chris Barnes, I played with his brother, so I know them pretty well.
"They're a tough team. We're not going in there expecting anything easy. We've got to go after them like their No. 1 and play them just as hard as any other team. They're big and athletic as crazy, so we've got to match their intensity."
Albert Jackson, a 6-11 center, is the other big piece of Georgia's interior -- or the "four monsters," as Pearl called them.
Pearl said slowing Georgia inside is "going to take everybody we've got."
Chism said the Vols have enough to do that.
"They're big, but we've just got to play our game, just like usual," Chism said. "If we do our thing, we always have a great chance to win."
Pearl and others again mentioned their hopes that Chism could avoid foul trouble -- something he's always struggled to do -- but the big man has no plans to change his style.
"It's not even in the back of my mind no more," Chism said. "They're going to call them whether I foul people or not, so I just go out there and play. Whatever. I just play the game and hope everything will go all right."
Coaches and teammates support that stance, saying Chism won't be as effective on either end if he's worried about contact.
"Besides, every time I say something to him, he gets two fouls in the first few minutes," Pearl said.
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