Getting over the hump won't be easy, though, since Mississippi State seems to have an overwhelming advantage in motivation heading into today's 5 o'clock Central (6 Eastern) tipoff at Starkville:
The Bulldogs will be defending their home floor at Humphrey Coliseum - a.k.a. The Hump.
The Bulldogs will be observing "Senior Night" and saying goodbye to their upperclassmen.
The Bulldogs will be trying to knock off a ranked opponent, the No. 16 Vols.
The Bulldogs will be looking to clinch sole possession of the SEC West title.
The Bulldogs will be attempting to play their way off the bubble and into the NCAA Tournament field.
Tennessee has some motivation, too, however. The Vols, 22-7 overall and 10-5 in league play, are just 7-5 in their last 12 games and looking to build some momentum heading into the upcoming SEC and NCAA Tournaments.
"We're headed in the right direction but Saturday will be the test," senior wing J.P. Prince said earlier this week. "That'll be when we see if we're going over the hump or how we handle the situation. We're going to have to play some of our best basketball in order to win that game."
The Vols played some of their worst basketball Wednesday night, struggling to an 80-73 home-court defeat of a fast-fading Arkansas team that has lost five of its last six games. The fact Tennessee played poorly and still managed to grind its way to victory may be a good sign, however.
"That's the thing," Prince said. "Even though we didn't play our best against Arkansas, we led for most of the game and won."
That level of performance won't cut it today, though, against a Mississippi State team (21-9 overall, 9-6 SEC) whose NCAA Tournament hopes hang in the balance ... especially at The Hump in Starkville. The Vols have been a Jekyll-and-Hyde team in SEC road games this season - playing very well at Alabama, South Carolina and Kentucky but playing poorly in lopsided losses at Georgia, Vanderbilt and Florida.
Senior point guard Bobby Maze says the key to performing well on the road is relatively simple.
"Defense and rebounding," he said. "To win on the road you have to defend well and you have to rebound. The teams we lost to shot over 40 percent and they outrebounded us. That's it."
NOTES: Fourth-year seniors Wayne Chism and Quinn Cannington have been part of 98 wins during their time at Tennessee, tying them with 2008-09 seniors Ryan Childress and Tanner Wild for the most victories in program history. Another W today would make Chism and Cannington the winningest Vols ever.... Perimeter shooting looms large this evening. Mississippi State ranks No. 3 among SEC teams in 3-point accuracy (36.2 percent) but Tennessee ranks No. 1 in 3-point defense (29.1 percent).... The Bulldogs' leading scorer is 6-7 junior Ravern Johnson at 13.8 points per game. Jarvis Varnado, a 6-9 senior who is the NCAA's all-time leader in blocked shots with 540, averages 13.5 points and 10.8 rebounds. The other starters are 6-2 sophomore Dee Bost (12.9 points, 5.3 assists), 6-3 senior Barry Stewart (11.7 points) and 6-8 junior Kodi Augustus (9.1 points).... Today's game will be televised by ESPN.