Vols Open Highly Anticipated Season Friday vs. Temple

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(WVLT) -- There are a lot of reasons to be excited about Tennessee men's basketball.

There's the fact that Bruce Pearl's Vols are ranked higher (No. 7) than ever in the history of the program; in fact, pundits across the board have pegged the Vols as a final four contender.

There's senior Chris Lofton, who is looking to build upon his All-American 2006-7 season, and has already been named Preseason All-America.

There are the newcomers -- four in all -- including high-flying forward Tyler Smith, who has already impressed the fans with his heroics inside the circle.

Finally, there's the $19 million renovation of Thompson-Boling Arena, which makes it a state-of-the-art, sleek facility which caters to rabid fans, television cameras, and high-end donors alike.

The much-anticipated 2007-8 men's basketball season tips off Friday at Thompson-Boling Arena when the Vols welcome the Temple Owls to town.

With apologies to the Owls, the Vols are the ones who are soaring after disposing of two Division II teams by a combined 123 points in two exhibition games last week. Four returning starters and some exciting newcomers combine to form a dynamic squad some pundits have predicted to reach the Final Four.

The Owls are not nearly as heralded, but have experience on their side, returning three starters from a team which finished 12-18 last season, and 6-10 in the Atlantic 10. They are led by 6-foot-5 guard Dionte Christmas, who averaged 20 points per game last year, earning preseason second-team all-conference honors this year.

The Vols and Owls have met four times, with each team winning twice. The last time the teams met, in 1973, they combined to score the fewest points in NCAA history in an 11-6 Tennessee win. Needless to say, the game was played in the days before the shot clock.

Tennessee is hot after two easy exhibition wins. The Vols beat California (PA) 106-46 last Friday, then dispatched Lincoln Memorial 124-61 Monday. Eight players put together double-figure scoring averages in the two preseason matchups, with Tyler Smith's 16 points per game leading the team.

The Vols and Owls tip off at 7:30pm Friday. Tickets are still available.

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