That's why senior point guard Bobby Maze views today's 5 o'clock CST tipoff at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville as a payback opportunity.
Maze is still upset that the Vols ended the 2008-09 season with consecutive losses. The first was a 64-61 setback to the Bulldogs in the SEC Tournament finals at Tampa. That loss extended UT's string of league tourney futility to 30 years.
The second loss was a 77-75 heartbreaker to Oklahoma State in Round 1 of the NCAA Tournament. That setback extended UT's string of futility in The Big Dance by one more year.
Maze holds Mississippi State responsible for both defeats. He figures the loss to the Bulldogs precipitated the loss to OSU by costing the Vols a higher seeding and an easier first-round matchup in the NCAA Tournament. He's probably right, which does make today's 5 o'clock CST tipoff at Starkville a bit of a payback opportunity.
"Of course ... serious payback," Maze said. "This is what it's about. It's all about payback. They was able to celebrate and put on T-shirts and dance while I sat on the side and watched them, wishing that was my team. And they caused us to play Oklahoma State in the first round, which we lost."
The Vols already have prevailed in one "payback game" this season. They beat Alabama 63-56 Jan. 19 in Tuscaloosa, avenging a humiliating loss in their 2008-09 home finale. Now they're looking for more vengeance at Mississippi State.
"Alabama was a payback game, and we had to go down there and handle our business," Maze said. "It's the same thing (with Mississippi State)."
Clearly, Maze is fired up for today's rematch. His mood visibly darkens each time he mentions the Bulldogs.
"I remember last year we lost to 'em in the SEC Championship Game," he said with a frown. "They played four games and we had a bye (only playing three) but they was the tougher team, the more physical team. They was able to pull away and dance on the floor. We was saddened."
Senior post Wayne Chism also views today's game as a payback opportunity, although he isn't quite as vengeful toward the Bulldogs.
"We're trying to go in there and at least get a good payback for what happened in the SEC Tournament championship game," Chism said. "We didn't do a great job down the stretch in that game. And we're playing to keep our nice spot in the NCAA Tournament seedings."
Not all of the Vols view today's game as a grudge rematch, however. Senior wing J.P. Prince isn't worried about vengeance.
"We just want to win," he said. "That's the thing - to advance, as far as our seeding and our play and our confidence level. I can't think about last year. Last year is last year. If I worried about that I'd be going back to every loss trying to get somebody back.
"Do you remember it? Yeah. Can you live off of it? No. We're not the same team and this is not the same situation."
Try telling that to Bobby Maze.