The Tigers are 10-11 overall, 2-8 in SEC play. They start four freshmen. They lost by 18 at Mississippi State 10 days after Tennessee won by 23 in Starkville. They lost by 24 at Vanderbilt and by 20 at Arkansas just last Saturday.
If ever there was a chance for Tennessee to overlook an opponent, tonight's the night. Yet, Vol head coach Bruce Pearl has no fear of that happening.
"No. None whatsoever," he said emphatically. "You've got to win the games on your schedule as they come up. Each one of them means just as much on the left side of the column as it does the right. Auburn's a very, very capable team. If we look past them we get beat, and I don't think this team is interested in getting beat."
So how does Pearl get his high-flying Vols motivated for an opponent that is struggling mightily? Easy. He's playing the revenge card.
"Auburn beat us last year," Pearl said. "There's not much more to talk about."
The Tigers won just four of 16 SEC games last season, finishing tied for last in the SEC West. One of those four victories, however, was a 62-59 defeat of Tennessee on Jan. 29, 2005. That setback helped seal the doom of Vol coach Buzz Peterson, who was fired five weeks later.
Whereas Peterson was on the hot seat when he faced Auburn last year, Pearl is on top of the world. His team is the Cinderella Story of college basketball this season. But the Cinderella story could end abruptly if the Vols stub their toe against an unheralded foe. That's why Pearl wants his players totally focused on tonight's game.
"Auburn is a team, like Georgia, that is athletic and physical," the Vol coach said. "Yes, they're young but they're talented. Georgia hit us in the mouth at the start of both halves, and we physically had a hard time responding to them. I don't think there's any question that Auburn will come in here doing the same thing."
Tip-off is set for 7:30 at Thompson-Boling Arena. There is no television coverage.