Only one previous Pearl team struggled at home to the extent that this team has - the 2008-09 squad that went 9-5 at TBA. That raises the obvious question: Why couldn't the 2008-09 and 2010-11 teams hold serve at home the way Pearl's other Vol squads did?
"My first three years we played with a different tempo at home," Pearl said. "Our style of play - pressing - definitely helped us at home. Teams definitely turn the ball over more on the road. Pressure works; look at Missouri. The thing we've always tried to do is be a really good pressing team at home ... so I think our style of play is a factor."
That's probably true. Then again, the 2009-10 Vols pressed rarely but still went 15-1 at Thompson-Boling Arena. That team played with considerable focus, discipline and savvy, however, whereas the 2010-11 Vols do not. Perhaps that's why they often find themselves facing double-digit first-half deficits.
The Vols trailed Southern Cal 21-11 early and lost. They trailed College of Charleston 35-15 early and lost. They trailed Alabama 34-24 early and lost They trailed Georgia 22-7 early and lost. The only exception was Vanderbilt, a team Tennessee rallied to beat after trailing 30-13.
"A recurring theme would be the fact that, at home, we've gotten ourselves in some pretty decent-sized holes in a number of games," Pearl conceded. "Southern Cal was a game that we had to dig out and battle back. College of Charleston we never did recover from. Vanderbilt we were down 17. Alabama we were down 13. Georgia we were down 15."
It appears the Vols aren't ready to play when they take the floor at home. Pearl says that wasn't the case in Saturday's 69-63 loss to Georgia, however.
"Against Georgia it wasn't so much that we started bad," he said. "It was that stretch from the 16-minute range all the way down to the 10-minute mark."
That stretch saw the Dawgs outscore the Vols 17-0, turning a 5-7 deficit into a 22-7 lead.
"That one stretch really got us," Pearl noted. "What was it that got us? One, the starters succumbed to fatigue and we lost some energy on defense. And we would not run the offense to where we valued the possession and got something more than just a "settle" shot. That was disappointing to see in that one stretch."
Disappointing, but not terribly surprising. Pearl admits that this Tennessee team must overcome a lot of deficiencies each time it takes the floor.
"It's a challenge we've been facing all year long," he said. "When you're as consistently inconsistent and you're consistently having breakdowns in areas of weakness, it becomes challenging to beat the best teams on your schedule."
That's especially true when you start slowly and find yourself trailing by double digits in the first half.
"The biggest message from me is going to be: With all of these games where we've had double-digit deficits in the first half, you've got to compete every possession, rather than get hit in the mouth and then fight back," Pearl said. "Perhaps because we're not quite as urgent as we need to be, we've put ourselves in that situation."
Freshman Tobias Harris won't say a lack of urgency is responsible. But he won't say it isn't to blame for the six home losses, either.
"I don't know why but it's disappointing because I know our fans really give us a lot out there and want us to win games," he said. "It's our job to just go out there and make them happy and have them go home with a win and have us go home with a win also."
Junior Scotty Hopson was a freshman on the Vol squad that went 9-5 at home and a sophomore on the one that went 15-1 at home. He's embarrassed to see the Big Orange playing so poorly at Thompson-Boling.
"We're definitely not representing Tennessee basketball well," he said. "We're not doing a good job executing at home. None of us expected this, man. None of us expected this at all."
UT'S HOME RECORDS UNDER BRUCE PEARL
2005-06: 14 wins, 2 losses
2006-07: 16 wins, 0 losses
2007-08: 16 wins, 0 losses
2008-09: 9 wins, 5 losses
2009-10: 15 wins, 1 loss
2010-11: 10 wins, 6 losses to date