Make-or-break time for Vols

The success or failure of Tennessee's basketball season probably will hinge on what the Vols do in the next three weeks.

During that span, UT will play Georgia (8-3 and coming off an upset of No. 3 Georgia Tech), at Florida (9-2 and ranked No. 1 nationally earlier this year), unbeaten Vanderbilt (11-0), at South Carolina (13-1), eighth-ranked Kentucky (9-1) and 11th-ranked Louisville (7-1).

This six-game meatgrinder is an enormous challenge but one head coach Buzz Peterson relishes.

''I told them (Vols) that we all came here -- coaches and players -- to coach and play in a top-25 program,'' he said. ''That was our goal, and we knew it would take some time and that we'd have to work at it....

''If you want to be a top-25 program in this league, these are some of the teams you've got to beat to get the respect you need. They know that's our goal ... to beat those teams, be in the top 25 and keeping this program going where it needs to go.

''It's laid out there, so we've got to take advantge of it, win those games.''

Georgia, which upset Georgia Tech 83-80 in two overtimes last Saturday, will be the first SEC game for two Vol starters -- Memphis transfer Scooter McFadgon and Clemson transfer Jemere Hendrix -- plus freshman reserves Dane Bradshaw and Major Wingate.

''We've got guys -- Hendrix and McFadgon -- who've never been in an SEC game before, so they'll get their first taste Wednesday,'' Peterson said, adding on a positive note that ''C.J. (Watson) and (Brandon) Crump have been through it.''

Tipoff is set for 7:30 at Thompson-Boling Arena. Even though it's the SEC opener for the Vols, this looms as a crucial game for them.

''I'm glad it's at home,'' Peterson said. ''I hope we have a good turnout (fans) because you've got to make sure you win those home games.''


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