A curveball was thrown Tennessee's way during action Thursday at the SEC men's basketball tournament that the No. 4-seed Volunteers are hoping to knock out of the park.
The Vols will face South Carolina on Friday in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament at Atlanta's Georgia Dome after the No. 13-seed Gamecocks upset fifth-seeded Arkansas, 71-69, in shocking fashion Thursday.
When released, the SEC tournament bracket looked destined for today's game to be between the Razorbacks and the Vols — the conference's top two NCAA tournament bubble teams.
Instead, the Vols (20-11, 11-7 SEC) will face a Gamecock (14-19, 5-13) squad that finished second-to-last in the SEC before dismantling Auburn, 74-56, Wednesday and winning Thursday.
The Frank Martin-led Gamecocks come into Friday having won three straight for the first time since Jan. 3, but the Vols have them one-upped by posting four consecutive victories — three of which were in blowout fashion.
Friday's game will also be South Carolina's third in three days, while the Vols will be ending a six-day break from the court. While that might be seen as a drawback, Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin lauded the importance of his team's fresh legs.
"Certain things you can't control," Martin said Wednesday before departing for Atlanta. "The key is to try to get by so you can have fresh legs to play for three days.
"I'd rather play for three days than play for four, or five."
In preparation for Friday, another potential speed bump for the Vols is familiarity with the arena. In massive venues such as the Georgia Dome, shooters can often struggle to find their flow.
Vols senior guard Jordan McRae, though, isn't buying into that, as he sees the Tennessee's shoot-around Friday morning in the venue as a perfect chance to get acclimated.
"I think we're going to get a chance to get up shots in there in the morning, and after that, we're gonna be ready to go," McRae said.
The SEC tournament hasn't been kind to Tennessee historically. That phenomenon has only grown in Martin's first two years, as the Vols were knocked off the NCAA tournament bubble with two quarterfinal losses.
However, the Vols are a win over 13-seeded South Carolina away from facing either top-ranked Florida or Missouri on Saturday in the semifinals.
If the words of UT guard Josh Richardson are any indication, the Vols are both calm and ready.
"We feel like we can come out and put together a good three games," Richardson said. "That's all it is, really."
Today's game will be televised nationally on ESPNU and is tentatively scheduled to start at 3:25 p.m. EST.