Four days removed from a heartbreaking, last-second loss to Texas A&M, the Tennessee men's basketball team will look to rebound tonight at 7 p.m. against the Auburn Tigers at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Despite the loss over the weekend, the Vols (10-5, 1-1 SEC) could notch the fifth win in their last six games with a victory. But they will have to go through the conference's best scoring duo first.
Auburn guards K.T. Harrell and Chris Denson are No. 1 and 2 in the SEC in points per game with 19.3 and 19.1, respectively.
At his Monday press luncheon, UT head coach Cuonzo Martin was not shy about how much the duo has stood out to him.
"You have two guys who are hovering around 20 points a night and almost shooting 50 percent from the field as guards," Martin said of Harrell and Denson. "That's not an easy thing to do with perimeter guys — shooting 50 percent from the field."
The Vols lead the SEC in defense so far in this two-game-old conference season, holding opponents to 53.5 points per contest. But Martin said the Tigers' starting guards will be a handful for his backcourt.
"Our guards will have their work cut out for them to defend those guys," Martin said, "because they run their offense through their guards."
More than a bit of pride is also on the line for the Vols. Not only would their NCAA Tournament chances take another huge hit with a loss, but it would also mark the first time anyone on the Tennessee roster has ever lost to Auburn.
The Tigers got stuck in the SEC cellar last season with a 9-23 record and 3-15 in conference play. This season didn't start off much better as Auburn gave up 72 points in the second half to Northwestern State in a 19-point, upset loss at home early in the year.
But the 8-5 Tigers now look much more dangerous, having nearly beaten Ole Miss and No. 21 Missouri to start out conference play, to whom they lost to by a combined five points.
Given Auburn's fight in recent outings, Martin admitted he doesn't expect the Vols to be the only team in Thompson-Boling Arena that is hungry to get back in the win column.
"They will come in," Martin said, "play aggressive and play hungry because they probably feel like they let two (games) slip as well."