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MidWest Notebook

Pearl’s team includes more than a few gems

By Bob Ryan
Globe Staff / March 26, 2010

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ST. LOUIS — When you get right down to it, what team of those remaining in the NCAA Tournament is more intriguing than Tennessee?

No other team lost four regulars — one for good — thanks to a traffic stop prior to one of the biggest games of the season. No other team has beaten Kansas and Kentucky. No other team at this level has had such major contributions from walk-ons, one of whom happens to be the coach’s son.

Renaldo [son of Orlando] Woolridge, Kenny Hall, Steven Pearl, Josh Bone, and Skylar McBee, guys that weren’t playing, were all of a sudden playing,’’ said coach Bruce Pearl. “And they were ready to accept that challenge. They weren’t overcome by it.’’

A lot of them are still playing, because Pearl is not one of these coaches who shortens his rotation at tournament time.

Among the players who will see action tonight when the Volunteers take on Ohio State in the opening game of the Midwest Regional doubleheader is son Steven, a 6-foot-5-inch swing type who was good enough to play on the United States Maccabi Games team last summer but who wasn’t considered by most people to be in the mix for any legit playing time for his dad’s Southeastern Conference team.

But Pearl has played anywhere from 7 to 24 minutes during the last 20 games, and will get to guard Ohio State’s David Lighty at some point tonight, because, as his dad says, “He can move his feet.’’

Three for the show
Ohio State coach Thad Matta previously coached at Butler and Xavier, and proudly points out that all three made the Sweet 16 . . . Celebrated Northern Iowa alums include Kurt Warner and Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). Warner phoned Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson following the Panthers’ win over top-seeded Kansas last Saturday . . . You have to like a kid who believes in himself. Asked if he expected to be in the conversation for Player of the Year, Ohio State’s Evan Turner said, “Not to be into myself or be arrogant, but I did. I always say I don’t want to be mediocre, I wanted to be the best.’’

Country club
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo comes from the tropics of the Upper Peninsula (Iron Mountain, Mich.). Jacobson comes from the wilds of Mayville, N.D. Izzo played for Northern Michigan, Jacobson for North Dakota. So each man entered the big-time world of college basketball from the outside in, so to speak. “I look out for guys like that,’’ said Izzo, who kiddingly refers to people with these backgrounds as “country bumpkins.’’ Izzo said he doesn’t know Jacobson well, but he respects his teams because he thinks “they are blue-collar teams, which we think we are.’’ . . . Izzo explained how he developed his emphasis on rebounding. In his first year on the job, he took a team to Maui that barely got by Chaminade and got hammered by North Carolina and Santa Clara because, he said, “we could barely score against ourselves when we had no defense.’’ So, “I realized that our best defense had to be the missed shot. And so I started a kid, Antonio Smith, at forward against Arkansas. He was a center. I think we had 24 or 25 offensive rebounds in that game and we upset them. And I said, ‘Aha, there’s something to this.’ So it all started because we couldn’t make a shot.’’