Jarnell Stokes talks about Nerlans Noel
Rivalry Week is a made-for-TV basketball promotion, but in Tennessee's case the sneaker fits.
On Wednesday, the Vols throttled Vanderbilt, the program they have beaten more times (113) than any other.
Saturday (TV: WVLT, 1 p.m.), they take on the bully that has beaten Tennessee more times (149) than anyone else has.
It's that day of the year when Thompson-Boling Arena's primary orange hue is accented by Kentucky blue.
"The history and tradition speaks for itself,'' said UT coach Cuonzo Martin, who will break out his orange blazer for the second time this week.
"With Kentucky,'' said senior Skylar McBee, "there's always a little extra juice in it.''
That's the way the best rivalries work.
Tennessee's 66 wins over the Wildcats are by far the most of any opponent. Vanderbilt is a distant second at 45.
However, not so many of those Tennessee wins are of recent vintage.
Kentucky has beaten the Vols six consecutive times and nine of the past 10. Over the past decade, the rivalry tilts heavily to the Big Blue, 17-4.
To keep a rivalry healthy, there should be genuine give-and-take.
I wouldn't say the UT-UK basketball rivalry has devalued to the level of the football series between the two neighbors — the Vols have won 27 of the past 28 — but it's time for Tennessee's hoopsters to get busy.
Seniors McBee and Kenny Hall are the only current Vols who have tasted victory against UK, 74-65 against John Calipari's first Kentucky team on Feb. 27, 2010.
"My freshman year,'' McBee said. "When they were pretty good.''
Real good. Kentucky was 27-1 and ranked No. 2. Since then, four of UK's victories have been by double digits. Only one game was decided in the final minute.
"You can see through social media people are already talking about the game,'' said junior Jordan McRae. "I know the gym's gonna be jam-packed. A lot of people are going to want to see us win that game.''
How many Kentucky fans help to jam pack it remains to be seen. For their part, UT fans don't want to get to the point where losing to Kentucky is a foregone conclusion.
Martin is 0-3 against Kentucky. Two of those losses were to the eventual national champions last season. The third was 75-65 in Lexington last month.
This isn't a vintage Kentucky team, and certainly not without injured freshman phenom Nerlens Noel.
But as UT's Jarnell Stokes pointed out Friday, the Wildcats still "have a lot of McDonalds.''
He meant All-Americans, not quarter-pounders.
Martin's predecessor, Bruce Pearl, offered a telling assessment after a loss to Kentucky in 2011 in what turned out to be his final game in Knoxville.
"I do feel (Kentucky) is a benchmark I should be judged on,'' Pearl said. "Obviously, I've not done my job in the rivalry with Kentucky.''
Pearl left with a 4-9 slate against the Wildcats. John Bender is the only Tennessee coach with a winning record against UK. That was in the peach-basket days before Adolph Rupp arrived in Lexington in 1931.
After years of lopsided Kentucky results, Ray Mears battled to a 15-15 standoff from 1963-77, signalling that there would be a rivalry after all. Then Don DeVoe went 11-12 through 1989.
Since then, the Tennessee wins have become more scattered.
"I've never beaten them,'' said junior guard Trae Golden. "It's something we definitely need to win.''
He's right. That's the way a rivalry works. And this rivalry needs some work.