(WVLT) -- When Tennessee visits Mississippi State Saturday, the Vols will face one of the SEC's best teams.
They'll also be playing one of the SEC's maddest teams.
The Bulldogs lost their first SEC game Wednesday at Arkansas, a 78-58 setback that was hardly indicative of the intensity with which State has played this season.
That intensity has led to unprecedented success, sending the Bulldogs to their best SEC start (5-0) since the 1993-94 season. The 'Dogs lead the SEC in blocked shots (8.6 per game) and defensive rebounds, thanks in large part to the dominant inside presence of Jarvis Varnado, who averages more blocked shots (5) than the SEC's second and third best shot blockers combined.
Meanwhile, the Vols have resumed their romp through the conference schedule, bouncing back after a loss at Kentucky by decisively beating Georgia at home and outlasting Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Chris Lofton has set the nets ablaze, shooting 21-of-42 from beyond the arc in his last four games and averaging 21 points in those contests.
The Vols have not suffered a regular season loss to a Western division team in more than a year, winning five straight games dating back to an 83-69 loss at Ole Miss last January. The Vols have also won three straight against the Bulldogs. The last time Tennessee visited Starkville back in 2006, it thrashed State, 88-65.
But it won't be so easy this time around, a fact Bruce Pearl readily acknowledges, even throwing out the "c" word.
"The game could have implications involving the SEC championship," Pearl said.
"Mississippi State is very strong, picked to be one of the better teams in the conference. They are a veteran team. They have a real good physical presence. They're really athletic. It's all about matchups: How can we stop them and how can we score?"
Tipoff is at 7pm from "The Hump" on the Mississippi State campus. The game will be telecast on Fox Sports Net, and Volunteer TV Sports Overtime will have complete game previews, highlights and analysis.