Men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl talks about the 2008 match-up between Tennessee and Memphis. Watch »
Tennessee's J.P. Prince grew up with it, center Wayne Chism hears about it when he calls home and captain Tyler Smith says it's braggin' rights.
It's Tennessee (12-5) versus No. 22 Memphis (15-3), the biggest basketball rivalry in the Volunteer State, and perhaps the hottest roundball grudge match in the South.
The game tips off at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in sold-out Thompson-Boling Arena with a national CBS television audience looking in.
"I thought when I came down here that Kentucky was our biggest rivalry,'' said UT junior college All-American transfer Bobby Maze, who hails from Maryland.
"But in every class this week, all they talked about was Tennessee-Memphis,'' Maze said. "Judging from my peers and all the students that got people coming in for the game, it's not even close, Memphis is bigger.''
UT freshman Scotty Hopson, from Hopkinsville, Ky., was surprised by the hype.
"I could just feel the tension building up this week,'' Hopson said. "Just the guys' attitude against the scout team, and even around campus. The fans are more excited about this game than any other game.''
So the cliche applies: throw the records out, even if both teams have firm NCAA Tournament footing.
The Vols had arguably the finest moment in UT men's basketball history last season when they knocked off previously unbeaten Memphis 66-62, snapping the Tigers' 47-game home-court win streak.
UT ascended to the No. 1 ranking for the only time in the school's 100-year basketball history.
And yet, for Tennesseans Prince, Chism and Smith, nothing was more important than braggin' rights.
Memphis used the loss to fuel its drive to the second national championship game appearance in school history. It was a game Prince, Chism and Smith hoped the Tigers would win.
The trio remembers playing on a 2004 Memphis-based AAU team with Pierre Niles and Willie Kemp of the Tigers, along with former Memphis standout Shawne Williams, who plays for the NBA's Dallas Mavericks.
"Playing guys you know and have gone against is special,'' said Chism, who won a state title at Bolivar Central with Kemp. "I call home, and my mom tells me people at her job are always talking to her about this game.''
Prince's father, John, served as a Memphis assistant under then-coach Larry Finch in the mid-1990s.
"Memphis raised me, and I root for Memphis every game they aren't playing us,'' Prince said. "But you hear the talk from this game all year, and that talking fuels a build-up.''
Smith knows the implications.
"It's braggin' rights in the state of Tennessee, and it's something you'll talk about in the summertime,'' Smith said. "Our goal is to get another SEC banner, but years down the road, you'll look back on this game.''
As personal as the game is for the players, it's all business for UT coach Bruce Pearl and Memphis coach John Calipari.
"Why do we play them in January? Three reasons: C-B-S,'' Pearl said. "It's a huge resume builder for us. I think it means a lot to our fans, too.''
It means a lot in the living rooms Pearl and Calipari will be visiting in their attempts to woo prospects, too.
"When you're competitive with Memphis, it brings credibility to your program," said Pearl, who has won the past two meetings with the Tigers.
Calipari suggests playing the series in Nashville with the schools splitting the profits.
That would also lessen the recruiting impact of the series for UT; Pearl benefits from the exposure in Memphis, while Calipari hasn't and won't make a living recruiting East Tennessee.
Calipari, however, doesn't undersell the game's value or popularity.
"I try to get us a January (non-conference) game and a February (non-conference) game that will show us where we're at,'' Calipari said. "This game becomes a rivalry game in how it's been played the last few years.
"Last year's game was the highest rated game in the history of ESPN; not only do the people in the state want to watch it, but the people around the country want to watch it, too.''