The Volunteers ascended to the top of the Associated Press college basketball poll for the first time in the program's 99-year history after their 66-62 win over previously unbeaten Memphis, which dropped from No. 1 to 2.
Coach Bruce Pearl said his team had "everything to gain and nothing to lose" playing the Tigers, who were feeling the pressure of preserving a perfect season and protecting the top ranking.
Now his Vols (25-2) are facing the same predicament as they prepare to face No. 18 Vanderbilt today in Nashville, a game that could hold the key to winning the Southeastern Conference.
"There's always a big prize for Vanderbilt to beat Tennessee and Tennessee to beat Vanderbilt," Pearl said during a Monday luncheon. "What we've done is we've made it a bigger prize coming in with a No. 1 ranking."
It's a new perspective for a team that has long played in the shadows of Tennessee's women's basketball team and Volunteers football.
The men's program hasn't outranked the women's program in the AP poll since January 1982, the same year the NCAA started its women's tournament. The men were ranked 15th midway through a 21-10 season under coach Don DeVoe while the women were briefly unranked.
The football team has been ranked No. 1 during four seasons in which they won two national titles. Under Pat Summitt, the Lady Vols have been a fixture of the women's poll and have won seven national championships.