"Our game becomes a little more important to everybody because of where we are in the RPI," Vol coach Bruce Pearl concedes. "It is such a quality win for anybody who can get it. That's something we've talked to our kids about. We get people off the bubble.
"If you beat Tennessee right now – given our RPI, not how good a team we are – this gets you in (the NCAA Tournament field). There are some teams in the SEC that are sitting on the bubble."
That's true, and several of them are on Tennessee's schedule these last few weeks.
Alabama (14-9 overall, 7-4 SEC) could give its NCAA hopes a terrific boost by beating the Vols Saturday in Tuscaloosa.
Florida (22-3, 8-3) already has an NCAA bid locked up but could significantly improve its seeding by beating the Vols Wednesday night in Gainesville.
Arkansas (16-8, 5-6) needs an NCAA bid to save coach Stan Heath's job. That should have the Hogs hungrier than usual when they visit Thompson-Boling Arena on Feb. 25.
Kentucky (16-9, 6-5) is clearly on the bubble, so a victory March 1 in Knoxville could be a season-maker for the Big Blue.
Vanderbilt (13-9, 4-7) can get on the bubble by winning three of its next four. That would make the Dores 16-10, 7-8 heading into the regular-season finale against Tennessee on March 4 in Nashville.