Vols face bubble battles

Tennessee is on the bubble for an NCAA Tournament bid. So is Alabama, tonight's opponent at Thompson-Boling Arena. So is Arkansas, Saturday's opponent in Fayetteville. So is Georgia, UT's March 3 opponent in Athens.

Except for defending national champ Florida, which visits Knoxville Tuesday night, every opponent left on Tennessee's schedule is battling for the same prize as the Vols – an invitation to The Dance. Basically, an NCAA bid will be at stake each time these teams take the floor.

"Is it going to be Tennessee or Alabama?" UT coach Bruce Pearl asked rhetorically. "Is it going to be Tennessee or Arkansas? Is it going to be Tennessee or Georgia? We need to take advantage of the head-to-head if we can."

That's what makes tonight's showdown with Alabama so important. A win would help Tennessee (18-9 overall, 6-6 SEC) bolster its chances of getting a bid, while simultaneously hurting the Tide's chances.

"They are a nationally-ranked team," Pearl noted, "and it is another chance to build our resume'."

It is also a chance for Bama (19-7, 6-6) to strengthen its NCAA resume'. Still, the game means more to the Vols than it does to the Tide. They are coming off a 17-point loss at South Carolina that dealt their NCAA Tournament hopes a serious setback.

"It was a lost opportunity," Pearl said. "Give South Carolina credit. They played well. There are 10 teams in the SEC that are bigger and stronger than we are. South Carolina is not one of them. It's a lost opportunity in not beating a team that physically doesn't overwhelm us. South Carolina just outplayed us at every position."

Tipoff for tonight's game is set for 8 o'clock with television coverage provided by Lincoln Financial Sports.

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