The Vols, who are 18-3, haven't lost a home game all year and lead the SEC with a 9-1 record after last year's struggles which led to the firing of head coach Buzz Peterson. Bruce Pearl was hired from Wisconsin-Milwaukee to take his place and his Vols have become one of the top teams in the country.
"I think he's taken the whole league by storm and it's really surprised a lot of people," says Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo. "He's had a track record at doing it at other places. They had some success early and the kids have bought into it.
"They have the crowds coming to the games and they have a home-court advantage now," he adds. "The kids are playing with a lot of confidence. He's done a good job of pulling it all together."
Shooting guard Chris Lofton at 17.2 points per game leads the Vols in scoring. In the last two games against Kentucky and Georgia he has hit an impressive 16-22 shots from three-point range. For the year he is shooting 45.4 percent from behind the arc.
"They're more experienced," Lebo says of the difference from last season to this season. "They've got Chris Lofton who has had an unbelievable season shooting the basketball. He's like the J.J. Redick of the SEC."
The other guard for Tennessee is senior C.J. Watson, who has started 109 games in his career. His 2.39 assist/turnover ratio is good for second in the league behind teammate Dane Bradshaw at 2.88. At 6-4, Bradshaw plays a number of positions. He averages 7.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists. Although he doesn't look to score much, he is capable of a big game as evidenced by his 21 points, 10 rebounds, five steals and four assists at Memphis earlier this year.
"They've got a senior point guard in C.J. Watson," Lebo says. "He's having a terrific year. The other guy I've been impressed with is Patterson, a transfer and fifth-year guy who has really given them a lift inside.
"I think one guy who doesn't get a lot of credit is Bradshaw," he adds. "They play him at a lot of different positions. Last year they played him more at the point. Right now they're playing him at the power forward and they can give him different looks out there."
Patterson played his first two seasons at UCLA and averages 9.8 points and 6.6 boards this season.
The other starter is Major Wingate at center. At 6-10 and 250 pounds he averages 10.9 points per game and should give Auburn match up problems on the low block as the Tigers counter with 6-7 post players most of the time.
Auburn comes into the game at 10-11 overall and 2-8 in the SEC. The Volunteers have lost games away from home against Oklahoma State, LSU and Memphis this season and have beaten two teams in the Top 10--Texas and Florida.
Tipoff at Thompson-Boling Arena is set for 6:30 p.m. CST with no television.