St. Louis With his hands flashing and fingers pointing, the moderator of the news conference looked like a cross between a referee and an overzealous flight attendant, and Bobby Maze just couldn’t resist.
The Tennessee guard started imitating him — subtly, of course, his fingers hidden behind his name card and his face blank. But Wayne Chism caught on eventually and tipped off Scotty Hopson, who burst into giggles.
Yes, the Volunteers are well aware fifth-seeded Michigan State is college basketball royalty, such a regular at the regional finals in recent years the Spartans may as well include it in their preseason itinerary. And that sixth-seeded Tennessee is a rookie, making its very first appearance in the round of eight today.
But if anyone expects Tennessee (28-8) to be intimidated or feel even the tiniest bit overwhelmed, well, they don’t know the Vols.
“Our team likes to be free, our team likes to have fun,” Chism said.
Tennessee has long been a powerhouse — in women’s hoops. On the men’s side? Not so much. When the Vols made the NIT semifinals four years ago, coach Bruce Pearl said the band and the cheerleaders didn’t even make the trip to Madison Square Garden.
“We looked like an SEC football school that was trying to play basketball,” Pearl said.