KNOXVILLE -- Years on the AAU circuit and brief stints at Hargrave Military Academy and the University of Iowa taught Tyler Smith many things.
Tennessee's 23-year-old senior star has a network of basketball connections from coast to coast. If he doesn't know something from firsthand experience, he probably knows someone who does.
This week's lesson is a simple one, according to Smith: Don't overlook East Tennessee State.
The Buccaneers (4-3) ride a three-game winning streak, including a victory at Arkansas last week, into tonight's tussle with the 11th-ranked Volunteers (5-1).
"Every week, you see teams falling out of the Top 25 after getting beat by smaller teams, or teams they should have beaten, because they looked down at their opponent," Smith said. "A lot of teams come in thinking they can win the game until they're really out of it. I think (ETSU) is that type of team -- a team that's going to come in here thinking they can win this game.
"If we play our game, play Tennessee basketball, we should be fine. But we've got to do that."
Smith's basketball network has an ETSU connection, too. He knows Bucs junior guard Justin Tubbs from AAU play, and he wasn't surprised to see the Alabama transfer's hot start this season.
Tubbs -- who teams with Tommy Hubbard to give ETSU a gifted backcourt -- scored a career-high 29 points in the Bucs' win over College of Charleston. Two nights later, he scored 21 to complement Hubbard's career high 32 at Arkansas.
"Not only do we respect East Tennessee State for what they're doing this year, but they were an NCAA tournament team last year that almost beat Pittsburgh," UT coach Bruce Pearl said. "And two years ago when we played them, we had a 16-point lead at one point, and with about 10 minutes to go in the game, they had a six-point lead against us and had a chance to beat us.
"It's definitely a team we respect. They're familiar with our guys, and they do a great job breaking pressure, so they'll be a difficult opponent to press and turn over. They've been on the road. They've played against excellent competition. Our guys know their guys, and they're very confident about coming down here and beating us."
UT senior guard J.P. Prince, who played with former ETSU star guard Courtney Pigram at Memphis powerhouse White Station High School, echoed Smith's complimentary sentiments toward the Bucs.
"Some of my best high school teammates went there, and they play good ball," Prince said. "I know a lot about them, so no, I wasn't surprised at all when they beat Arkansas. Anybody can beat anybody, and they can beat a lot of teams.
"But yeah, I did do a quick double-take to make sure that score was right."
Vols backup point guard Melvin Goins -- a California native who played as a freshman at Ball State before a year at junior college -- said he was "really impressed" with video of ETSU's backcourt.
"They're definitely a team to be respected," Goins said. "They've beaten some good opponents. We have to take them serious and come out and play hard. They've got some good players, so we're really going to have to play team defense and guard the ball."
UT won't play for nine days after tonight, taking time to focus on final exams and resting their legs from five games and several physical practices in a tough, two-week stretch.
"I'm sure we can find a way to put school aside for a couple of hours, as hard as that will be," Prince said.
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