Tennessee has been ranked in the Top 25 all season, logged a fifth-straight 20-win season and scored its first Thompson-Boling Arena win over a No. 1-ranked team (Kansas).
UT coach Bruce Pearl concedes it has been a pretty good season.
"But seasons are judged based on how you do against Kentucky,'' Pearl said Friday. "We could have a good year without beating Kentucky, but we can't have a great year without beating Kentucky.''
The No. 2-ranked Wildcats (27-1, 11-1 SEC) tip off against the 19th-ranked Vols (20-7, 8-5) at noon today (TV: WVLT) in Thompson-Boling Arena.
"Your friends, your family, everyone will be watching when it's on CBS; you don't even have to have cable,'' UT senior J.P. Prince said. "When the lights are on you want to put on a show, and we've done good in the big games because we all like the big stage.''
The Vols were making the most of an ESPN GameDay build-up in Rupp Arena when the teams met two weeks ago, holding a 52-50 lead over Kentucky with 10 minutes left to play.
"I think we played about as good as we could those first 30 minutes, being on the road,'' Pearl said. "A lot of what happens this time depends on how elevated we can play, and what our crowd does for us.''
The game is not only sold out, but Vols fans also are staging an "Orange Out," with many clad in OutLive T-shirts sold to benefit the UT Medical Center Cancer Institute.
Kentucky coach John Calipari likely won't appreciate the environment.
At SEC Media Days in Birmingham in October, Calipari said to a crowded room of media "I can't stand the color'' orange.
But the Wildcats, who arrived for Friday's shoot-around wearing Marine-style camouflage hats - Calipari included - have other concerns.
Kentucky is playing to clinch a share of the SEC regular-season title, and with a win over UT it would take another step toward clinching a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
"This won't be for the faint of heart,'' Calipari told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Friday afternoon. "No boys in this game.''
Kentucky is the tallest team in college basketball with an average height of 6-foot-7, and Wildcats front line players DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson and Daniel Orton rank as the most talented, according to Pearl.
Prince said that front line sets the Wildcats apart, moreso than their celebrated backcourt of freshmen John Wall and Eric Bledsoe.
"Their guards get all the TV highlights and the publicity, but their bigs win the games for them,'' Prince said. "They (guards) don't have to worry about rebounding, so they can get out and start the (fast) break.
"Cousins and Patterson do the dirty work. The reason (Wall) can drive through the lane is because you can't leave Cousins or Patterson.''
The Vols tried to combat that in Lexington by playing a lot of zone defense, the better to provide help defense.
Calipari said after the Wildcats' 73-62 win that he was caught off-guard by Pearl's defensive tactics, and he wouldn't be surprised to see the Vols try something different today.
"He (Pearl) may try to come up with some funky defense,'' Calipari said.
"I don't know how funky it will be,'' he said. "We'll try to play some zone again.''
UT senior post Wayne Chism went through walk-through drills Friday and has been cleared to play after re-injuring his hip in Tuesday's loss at Florida.
"I've worked my butt off to get back in time for this game,'' said Chism, who suffered the original hip injury when Wall undercut him at the end of the first half in Kentucky. "I'll take whatever medicine I need for the pain to play.
"This is going to be a great game.''
By Pearl's logic, it will have to be for the Vols to qualify this as a great season.