published Thursday, December 15th, 2011

Mocs go from D-III to No. 3

The Mocs are doing a 180-degree turn.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga played an NCAA Division III team on Tuesday and won by 50 points.

It will play the No. 3 college basketball team in all the land on Saturday -- and could lose by 50.

The Mocs humbled Spalding, with former Moc Kevin Gray as its coach, 98-58 by opening in a full-court press and simply out-manning the less-skilled Golden Eagles.

Kentucky (8-1) could do the same to UTC (3-7), especially after losing on a last-second 3-pointer at Indiana in its last game which knocked them from the perch of No. 1.

"You always want to compare yourself to the best," coach John Shulman said. "What a great opportunity."

RealTimeRPI.com, a statistical website that tracks every RPI (a factor in determining the NCAA tournament field and seeding) predicts Kentucky will beat UTC 90-38.

That's a predicted 52-point differential.

Statistician Ken Pomery at KenPom.com has the game listed as 88-54 in favor of Kentucky -- a 34-point difference between the Cats and Mocs.

Shulman had a conversation with good friend and former UTC coach Jeff Lebo -- now coaching at East Carolina -- about Kentucky's Rupp Arena on Wednesday morning.

"He said, 'It will be the greatest experience you ever had,'" Shulman said. "He told me, 'What I wanted to do was go warm up in Rupp, go back in the lockerroom right before the game, then get on the bus and go home.'

"He said, 'They treat you like gold before the game, but it's not as fun during the game.'"

Senior Ricky Taylor has faced five ranked opponents in his UTC career. The Mocs lost 100-95 at No. 22 Davidson in Dec. 2008, but all other games have resulted in at least 20-point losses.

"We have to bring our A-game," Taylor said. "I feel good about it. We're going to go there and fight until the end.

"You have to live the dream and pray that it comes true."

UTC's last test against a No. 3 team came against UConn in the first round of the 2005 NCAA tournament. The Huskies won by 56 points.

"We're not going up there just for the experience," Shulman said. "We have things we have to work on. They were 2-for-7 from the 3-point line against IU. So they like to score the ball in the a paint.

"You talk about an unbelievable test."

It could be 100 points harder than Tuesday's test.

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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