DENVER — Terrence Jennings knows he's probably in for the challenge of his basketball life.
Jennings, Louisville's 6-foot-9 forward, will be matched up with Morehead State rebounding machine Kenneth Faried when U of L tips off against the Eagles on Thursday.
Rebounding has been an issue for the Cards this season, as they rank 12th in the Big East in rebounding margin. They were pounded on the boards 49-25 in a loss at West Virginia, were outrebounded by 15 in an overtime win at UConn, by 16 in a loss at Villanova, and by 11 in a home loss to Kentucky.
Jennings hasn't exactly been an animal on the glass, either, averaging 5.2 rebounds and at times drawing Coach Rick Pitino's ire for his lack of board work. But Jennings said he'll be up to the task Thursday.
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"I'm going to have to play the best game I've ever played before," Jennings said. "I plan on just going out there and taking care of my job. Coach has been on me about rebounding, and it's really all about focus."
But keeping Faried off the boards won't fall solely on Jennings. Backup post players Gorgui Dieng, Stephan Van Treese and George Goode might all get a shot at Faried, as will Kyle Kuric and Mike Marra, two wing players Pitino uses as undersized power forwards in his small lineup. Even the guards will have to chip in.
"I think my teammates trust me, yet at the same time we all have to get in there and gang rebound," Jennings said.
"One man is never going to stop a great player," U of L senior guard Preston Knowles said. "Whether it's a great guard like Kemba Walker, or a great big man like Faried. We all have to contribute."
Jimmer mania in Denver
There are a lot of big names and stories at the Denver pod this week with Louisville Coach Rick Pitino, St. John's Coach Steve Lavin and Morehead's Kenneth Faried. But there was no question who the star of stars was at Thursday's news conferences. Brigham Young guard and national player of the year candidate Jimmer Fredette drew the biggest crowd to the interview room, and it took nearly 10 minutes before his teammate Jackson Emery was asked a question.
Fredette was asked about the similarities between himself and Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, who like Fredette generated a cult following in college, was recognized for his commitment to his faith, and also has been questioned about his ability to play at the next level.
"He's a great story," Fredette said of Tebow. "We're similar in that people have doubted us our whole career. But we're both mentally tough, and we both want to show people we can go out there and be successful."
Vandy playing for respect
Vanderbilt has some demons to exorcise in Denver. In its last two tourney appearances, in 2008 and 2010, the Commodores were bounced out in the first round as a No. 4 seed by a No. 13 seed. They were blown out 83-62 by Siena in 2008 and then lost a 66-65 heartbreaker to Murray State last year.
Vandy has a good portion of its roster back from the Murray State game, and Coach Kevin Stallings is hoping the experience pays dividends.
"I still think it was valuable for our team to be there, to feel the pressure, to feel what we felt in that game," he said. "I think that will benefit our players tremendously this time around."
Vandy enters as a No. 5 seed this year, and its first-round opponent, Richmond, has built a reputation as a giant-killer, winning games as a No. 12, 13, 14 and 15 seed.
But Stallings said the days of Richmond being a Cinderella story are long gone.
"Everybody knows that Richmond's really good," he said. "They've earned the reputation. They've earned that credibility through beating good people."
Adjusting to altitude
The altitude is always a hot topic when games are played in Denver. All eight teams practiced at the Pepsi Center on Thursday, and while most admitted they could tell a difference, there didn't seem to be any major issues.
"The past couple days I've heard a lot about being a mile high, getting adjusted to the altitude, all this other stuff, how it's important to make sure you stay hydrated, drink a lot of fluids; everybody is telling you that," Richmond forward Justin Harper said. "Really, I just think it's in your mind."