Tennessee's Scotty Hopson raises his hand in celebration near the end of Tennessee's 60-51 win at Vanderbilt on Tuesday.
On paper, Tennessee is supposed to beat Mississippi State tonight in Thompson-Boling Arena.
On the men's basketball court, however, both teams have been hard to figure.
The Vols have more top-50 RPI wins (nine) than any program in the nation but have work left to do if they're to make the NCAA tournament for a school-record sixth consecutive season.
The Bulldogs handed Florida one of its two SEC losses (71-64) and led Kentucky by 11 in Rupp Arena before falling 85-79. And yet, Mississippi State has losses to LSU and Auburn.
The SEC's Jekyll and Hyde programs square off at 6 p.m. (TV: ESPN). Both teams have potential second-place finishes in their respective divisions - and first-round SEC tournament byes - within reach.
"It's not about beating the teams we're supposed to beat, it's about matchups, and some have been better for us than others,'' said UT coach Bruce Pearl, whose team is a 10 1/2-point favorite tonight.
"(Mississippi State) can put four guys on the floor that you could make an argument on any night could be as good at their position as anyone in the league.''
Tennessee (17-11, 7-6 SEC) is coming off one of its best wins of the season at Vanderbilt on Tuesday and looks to build momentum against Mississippi State (14-13, 6-7).
"We have to come in with our best game; we can't dictate how they are going to play,'' Vols senior Melvin Goins said. "We still have a lot to prove, and we want to show some consistency late in the season.''
UT also wants to prove it can play well at home.
The Vols have more home losses this season (six) than any of Pearl's previous five teams in Knoxville.
"We've got to find a way to play better at home, it's an issue,'' Pearl said. "We've had a lot of discussion about our routine. There are distractions, families at home, more ticket issues, don't run errands on Saturday.
"If we're at Mississippi State, we'd be at the hotel and going to practice and then off our feet,'' he said. "Here, we might get our hair cut, we might go to the mall. We don't lock them down or stay in the hotel the night before.''
As for the Bulldogs, Pearl has taken note they've played their best in high-profile games.
"Mississippi State has played its best basketball against the best teams in the conference,'' he said. "They beat Florida, they had Vanderbilt beat, they beat Arkansas, beat Ole Miss twice, played great at Kentucky.
"The other common denominator is how well they've played in national television games, on ESPN and CBS. Those kids have paid attention to those games.''
The Vols will be particularly attentive to the Bulldogs on the perimeter, as Mississippi State is tied for first in SEC games with 7.8 made 3-pointers per contest and ranks fourth in 3-point shooting percentage (37.1)
UT must also be mindful of 6-foot-10, 275-pound post Renardo Sidney, who's coming off 22- and 24-point performances in his past two games against Ole Miss and LSU.
"Sidney is starting to get in shape and starting to feel better about his presence in the low post,'' Pearl said. "He does a really good job scoring down there, and it's hard to double him because he'll be out there with (6-8 forward) Kodi Augustus and two shooters.''
One of those shooters is 6-7 wing Ravern Johnson, who has hit 11 of his past 15 shots beyond the 3-point arc and leads the Bulldogs with 17 points per game.
"This is a very talented team with a great big man,'' UT freshman Tobias Harris said. "But we're starting to figure out how to finish games and win down the stretch.''
Home Attendance: UT has finished fourth in the nation in attendance the past four seasons but needs a big crowd today to finish there this season.
UT is currently fifth with today's game and a March 6 date with Kentucky ahead. The Vols average 18,667 per home game, behind Kentucky (23,494), Syracuse (21,991), Louisville (21,736) and North Carolina (18,812).
Thompson-Boling's largest crowd this season was 21,198 for Vanderbilt.