The Tide has won five of its last six games under interim coach Philip Pearson. Tennessee had won three in a row before losing Sunday's home finale. The winner of tonight's quarterfinal matchup – like most SEC Tournament matchups – likely will be the team that is most focused and energetic.
As Vol fans are acutely aware, the Big Orange's focus and energy tend to wane in the league tournament each year. That's why UT hasn't taken home the title since 1979 and hasn't reached the finals since 1991.
Many teams who already have an NCAA Tournament bid locked up – as the Big Orange does this year – have trouble getting up for the SEC tourney. Billy Donovan's Florida Gators have been a notable exception, reaching the finals in 2004, then winning titles in '05, '06 and '07.
Donovan said during a recent SEC coaches' teleconference that the Gators always felt there was something to play for in the league tourney, even when they had an NCAA bid secured.
"There is a championship, there is a trophy, there is something you're playing for," he said. "When you're playing for something like that, I think it's always significant and always important.
"The teams here at Florida, when we went into the SEC Tournament, were excited to play and took it very seriously, even though maybe we already knew we were in the NCAA Tournament."
Still, some teams who already are assured an invitation to The Dance view the SEC Tournament as anti-climactic.
"I did not get that sense at all from my previous teams," Donovan said. "If anything, our guys were excited to play in that type of event.
"You're traveling somewhere to play on the road and you have 12 teams in our league all going to one site to play. It's on a court nobody's played on all year. It's always exciting to do that."
Perhaps Tennessee's players will be excited about playing in Tampa. Perhaps they'll be excited about the prospect of avenging last Sunday's loss to Bama. Perhaps they'll be excited about chasing the program's first SEC tourney title in 30 years.