"I feel like we're a totally different team," sophomore point guard Trae Golden said. "Everybody's role is more defined. We know more defensively. We're smarter. A lot has changed. This is a big game for us, and I think we'll be ready to get revenge on 'em."
Senior wing Cameron Tatum thinks so, too. He says the Vols, 7-6 but riding a four-game winning streak, believe in themselves a lot more than when they faced Memphis Nov. 22 in Hawaii.
"The last game there was a level of uncertainty," he said. "After the Duke game and the Memphis game, we knew we could hang with any team in the country.
"Memphis is a good team but we've got a lot of confidence right now. We know we can go in there and get a good win but we understand it's a good rivalry so it (intensity level) is going to be elevated. I think all of our guys are going to be pumped up and ready for it. With the confidence of having a win streak, I think we've got a good shot at going in and getting a good win."
Whereas Tennessee's players openly admit that facing their in-state rival is special, head coach Cuonzo Martin is typically low-key about tonight's rematch.
"As a coach, you prepare the same way," he said earlier this week. "You understand what's at stake and the players read the paper, so they know. As a coach, your prep work is the same; it doesn't matter the opponent. You scout them, find the best way to win the game, then you keep moving."
Tennessee always gets a rowdy reception when it visits Memphis, and that reception will be more venomous than usual since the Vols recently signed 5-star Memphis high school star Jarnell Stokes. Asked how tonight's showdown might impact future recruiting efforts in the Bluff City, however, Martin chose to downplay that angle.
"As long as we play hard, that's my criteria," he said. "Our approach is the same. We give it our best shot, and whatever happens happens."
Tennessee's head man did acknowledge that the decibel level at Fed-Ex Forum could have an effect on tonight's game ... if the Vols fail to keep their emotions in check.
"You've got to go in there ready to play, don't get too emotionally high because of the situation or the environment," Martin said. "Just go in there and do the things necessary to be successful.
Tennessee is 0-2 in true road games this season, losing 81-89 at Oakland and 65-71 at College of Charleston. Perhaps those experiences will come in handy when the Vols face Road Test No. 3 tonight.
"I think so,"Martin said. "As a competitive player and someone who enjoys the game, you want to play in that type of environment. You look forward to it. We know Memphis will be ready, and our guys will be up to the challenge."
Maybe, but the environment in Memphis will be exponentially more hostile than it was at Oakland or Charleston. Still, Martin is optimistic.
"I told the guys that the next phase for us is to go win a game on the road in a hostile environment," the coach said. "I think that's a matter of executing on both ends of the floor. On the road you can't come out of the gate shooting the ball quickly because it can be a long night. Your quick shots will lead to transition baskets for those guys."
NOTES: Tipoff for tonight's game is 7:07 Central (8:07 Eastern) with television coverage provided by Fox Sports South.... Memphis was 1-1 and ranked eighth nationally when the teams met in Maui. The Tigers are 8-5 and unranked at present.... The Sagarin Ratings show Memphis No. 25 and Tennessee No. 159.... Jeronne Maymon had his career game in the meeting at Maui, scoring 32 points and grabbing 20 rebounds. It was the first time a Vol had produced 20 or more points and 20 or more rebounds in the same game since Steve Hamer went for 31 points and 21 rebounds versus Alabama in the 1996 SEC Tournament.... Will Barton (25 points) and his brother Antonio (21) paced Memphis in the earlier meeting.... Will, a 6-6 wing, leads the Tigers in points (19.8 per game), rebounds (9.2) and 3-point percentage (41.5). The Tigers' other projected starters for tonight are 6-8 Ferrakohn Hall (5.6 points per game), 6-8 Tarik Black (8.5), 6-6 Adonis Thomas (10.0) and 6-2 Antonio Barton (7.1). Three Memphis starters — Hall, Black and Thomas — are Memphis natives.... Tennessee's Skylar McBee ranks third among SEC players in 3-point shooting at 46.2 percent (30 of 65).