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Tennessee — Auburn Preview: Bruce Pearl returns to Knoxville once again

Pearl’s Tigers are 12-1.

NCAA Basketball: Connecticut at Auburn Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t all that long ago that Bruce Pearl lit Knoxville on fire for the men’s basketball program. Pearl came in and totally flipped a switch here, thrusting Tennessee into the the basketball spotlight after years of underachieving. Those years were special and different. It’s truly a shame how it all ended.

Finally — several years later — both parties have rebounded. Tennessee is 9-3 and ranked inside the top 25 for the first time since the Pearl era. Pearl himself has Auburn sitting at 12-1. They are unproven, but still sit in a position to prove themselves in SEC play.

Pearl’s Tigers will get their first shot to prove themselves tonight against Tennessee.

Auburn holds that great record, but there isn’t much substance there. MTSU, Dayton, UConn are probably their best wins to this point. Auburn’s schedule ranks 178th in the country, a far cry from Tennessee’s rank of 7th.

All that to say, we just don’t know a whole lot about this Auburn group yet.

They are another up-tempo team that can fill up the scoreboard, averaging over 86 points per game. They are led by a couple of guards who average 15 points each in Bryce Brown and Mustapha Heron.

Forwards Anfernee McLemore and Chuma Okeke lead the charge down low for the Tigers and are a big part of why Auburn ranks inside the top ten in rebounds per game.

For Tennessee, guard play has to be better. We saw Jordan Bone put together a nice game against Arkansas, but the Vols were outpaced by the Hogs’ backcourt down the stretch. Once Grant Williams fouled out, this team was lost.

Williams staying out of foul trouble is paramount going forward, but this group is going to have to find a way to win without him. It’s just part of the game. Tennessee badly needs an alpha to emerge — they need another guy that they can lean on offensively.

We’ve seen spurts of it from Bone, Admiral Schofield, Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner, even James Daniel of late. It just seems like this team is struggling to really put the whole package together.

It would be nice to see any of those guys string a few games together. They have a chance to do that tonight, facing a fast, guard heavy team in Auburn. We’ll see how they respond to the tough Arkansas loss.

Location: Knoxville, Tennessee

Tip-off: 7 PM eastern


Streaming: Watch ESPN

Radio: Vol Network

Odds: Tennessee -5.5