The talking heads on ESPN are hyping the heck out of the matchup, which promises to be a ratings bonanza for the sports-centered cable giant.
The talk won't end when the game begins, however. Quite the contrary. The talented Tigers (26-0) talk the talk AND walk the walk.
“They do a lot of trash talking but they can’t intimidate us because we’re 1-1 with this senior class,” Vol guard JaJuan Smith says, referring to the fact Memphis and Tennessee have split the past two meetings. “They’re not afraid of us and we’re not afraid of them. It’s going to be a great game, and we’re up for the challenge.”
Even after the game ends, however, the talk will not.
“In the state of Tennessee there’s going to be a lot of noise,” Vol forward Wayne Chism says. “Whoever wins is going to try and say, ‘This is the best team in Tennessee,’ so we’ve got to come out and play good against Memphis. This game means a lot.”
Saturday's showdown at FedEx Forum may not be the most important game in Vol history but it surely ranks as the most ballyhooed game in Vol history.
“It’s hard to not really think about that game because it’s 1 and 2,” Tennessee forward Tyler Smith says. “Every game coming on (ESPN) this week shows (teases to) our game. It’s great, everybody watching a 1-2 match-up. At the same time we’ve got to take care of business.”
The Vols certainly took care of business in last year's meeting at Thompson-Boling Arena. They raced to a 43-22 halftime lead en route to a 76-58 romp. Sophomore point guard Ramar Smith insists that game has absolutely no bearing on Saturday night's rematch, however.
“That’s last year,” he says. “Nah, I can’t say it’s going to help us going into this game. It’s a completely different team this year.”
Several Vols will be making their second visit to FedEx Forum this weekend. They were members of an unranked UT squad that outplayed the fourth-ranked Tigers on Jan. 18, 2006 only to fade at the finish and suffer an 88-79 setback.
Will that experience help the Vols Saturday night? Maybe a little.
“In a way it helps but in a way it don’t,” JaJuan Smith says. “Both teams are different than two years ago. But it gives us confidence, knowing we can play on their floor with them. We’re just going to take that to our advantage.”
As a first-year transfer from Iowa, Tyler Smith wasn't a member of the Vol team that lost in Memphis two years ago or the team that won in Knoxville last year. Still, being a native of Pulaski, he understands the significance of this game. He also understands that the Vols must keep their emotions in check.
“Our players know we can’t get over-hyped for this game,” he says. “If we do we’ll wind up coming out flat. We don’t want that at all because they’re a great team. If they get up on you, it’s going to be hard to come back because they play (fast-paced) just like us.”
It's a safe bet the Vols will not come out flat Saturday night. They are reminded of the magnitude of this game every time they turn on a TV or pick up a newspaper.
When asked if Saturday's meeting has the feel of an NCAA Tournament game, Ramar Smith shook his head.
“Really, 1 and 2 going at it is like a national championship game,” he said. “That’s how we’ve got to look at it.”