KNOXVILLE -- Today will present a tremendous opportunity for the Tennessee men's basketball program.
When the undefeated Kansas Jayhawks step on the Thompson-Boling Arena court, they will become the first No. 1 ranked team in The Associated Press Poll to do that in the building's 23-year history.
Most understand why this opportunity is so daunting, though.
The 16th-ranked Volunteers (11-2), with a roster sliced nearly in half for various reasons, will battle the Jayhawks (14-0) with six healthy, eligible scholarship players and three walk-ons.
"It'll take something very, very, very special to beat Kansas," UT coach Bruce Pearl said. "But that's what we're setting out to do."
The Vols' three active seniors made similar comments after Friday's practice.
"People say we're short-handed, but this is what we've got, and I feel confident with the guys that Coach Pearl is going to put out there on the floor," Maze said.
Added wing J.P. Prince: "We've still got talent, and we can beat anybody if we play like I know we can, especially in our own house."
Forward Wayne Chism, the most decorated member of the senior trio, said he couldn't think of a better time than now for this game.
"Knowing what we just went through, and seeing how we came together against Charlotte, if we keep that going, it could be something special," Chism said. "So yeah, I'd rather have Kansas now than later. I believe in my teammates. My teammates believe in Coach Pearl. We believe in the whole coaching staff."
Pearl, like many peers, is often prone to hyperbole when discussing upcoming opponents. But many share his thoughts on Kansas, which has one of the nation's top point guards in senior Sherron Collins, one of the nation's top big men in senior Cole Aldrich, one of the nation's most talented freshmen in wing Xavier Henry and one of the nation's deepest benches.
"Kansas is a formidable task," Pearl said. "They're a great basketball team, and they're so well-coached in everything they do. Everything they do is so well spaced and so well thought out and so well put together. Bill Self is one of the best coaches in the country, with what they do and how they do do it.
"Sometimes you can do things against an opponent because there's a schematic weakness -- you know, if you take this away, that's going to really bother them. Well, against Kansas, if we take this away, they'll do that. And if we take that away, they'll do this."
Pearl was also concerned about his team's early-second-half performance in Wednesday's win against Charlotte. The Vols steadied themselves after the 49ers' 21-2 run and pulled away for an 88-71 victory, but a 25-point lead dwindled to a two-possession edge once Charlotte executed its halftime adjustments.
UT had many disadvantages Wednesday, but it also had one clear advantage. The 49ers didn't know what to expect from the new-look Vols.
Kansas won't have that problem after studying Wedneday's video.
"We're not going to sneak up on anybody now," Pearl said. "Charlotte was our only real chance to do that. No other team will have that challenge."
Kansas, unlike many opponents, won't fear the Thompson-Boling crowd. In addition to playing their home games in one of college basketball's storied cathedrals, the Jayhawks are a top draw from coast to coast, often drawing sold-out, hostile crowds.
Prince said he'd still appreciate UT's fans best efforts to rattle the Jayhawks, anyway. He quipped that Thompson-Boling could "literally" be the depth-depleted Vols' sixth man.
"I don't think our fans realize how much their loudness not necessarily affects us, but affects the other team," Prince said. "If we've ever really needed the fans, this is it. We need them now more than ever."
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