Tennessee will welcome Auburn to Knoxville this upcoming Saturday for one of the most high-profile matchups of the season. And with the arrival of Auburn comes the return of former Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl.
Pearl was the head coach at Tennessee from March of 2005 until he was fired in March of 2011. During his tenure in Knoxville, Pearl led the Vols to a 145-61 record with two Sweet 16 showings and one Elite Eight appearance. Additionally, Pearl never missed out on an NCAA tournament appearance while at Tennessee.
Through the course of his six seasons in Knoxville, and in the subsequent years as a coach in the SEC, Pearl is more than familiar with the intimidating environment that Tennessee can possess. The Vols had more than 20,000 fans pack the house against Arizona in December, and will be just over a week removed from selling out the building (21,678) against Kentucky. When Tennessee’s fans pack the house, and a team with prior history is coming into town, Thompson-Boling Arena can be one of the most devastating places in the country for an opposing team.
“I would think playing Tennessee at Tennessee would be as difficult as winning a Final Four game,” Pearl said on Thursday via AuburnUndercover. “That is what it would be very much equated to.”
Tennessee has been unbelievable at home this year with an undefeated record in T.B.A including wins over No. 6 Arizona and No. 4 Kentucky. The Vols feed off the same atmosphere in the building that withers down Tennessee’s opponents for 40 minutes of game action.
“We have got some great wins, but because of how tough they are at home, how well they shoot the ball at home, how well they share the ball at home, we are absolutely going to have to have our best afternoon of the year,” Pearl stated according to AuburnUndercover.
Saturday’s matchup in Knoxville will be another Top 25 clash for the Vols, something that has become common over Tennessee’s last few games. In two of the Vols’ last three games, Tennessee has taken on fourth-ranked Kentucky and 23rd-ranked Arkansas. Now, the Vols will face another team with championship aspirations.
Bruce Pearl, on Auburn’s upcoming matchup with Tennessee.
"Tennessee is playing really good…That game has championship implications and it’s kinda cool that the last couple of years the Auburn-Tennessee game has had something to do with the championship."
— Trey Wallace (@TreyWallace_) February 24, 2022
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During his Thursday press conference, the Auburn coach went back a few years to describe this Tennessee team. Pearl said that the Vols are “equally as good” as the 2018-2019 Vols. During that season, the Tennessee team led by Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield suffered a 24-point loss to Auburn in the championship game of the SEC tournament before being controversially bounced from the NCAA tournament during an overtime loss to Purdue in the Sweet 16.
That Tennessee team spent four weeks with the No. 1 ranking in the country, as well.
In fact, Pearl said that the current Tennessee team, in his mind, is even better than the 2018 Vols on the defensive end of the court.
“The difference is this year’s team is actually better defensively,” Pearl said via AuburnUndercover. “They turn you over. They steal the ball from you. They put a lot of pressure on you. They fly around. This is one of Rick’s (Coach Rick Barnes) better defensive teams.”
Tennessee’s guard play has been tremendous this season, and Bruce Pearl has taken notice of that before the game. Pearl specifically called out Santiago Vescovi, Kennedy Chandler, and Zakai Zeigler as three of the best defending guards in the country, yet still possessing offensive firepower on the other end of the court.
No. 17 Tennessee will host No. 3 Auburn and Bruce Pearl this Saturday in Knoxville at 4:00 p.m. ET on ESPN.