The Western Division of the SEC, like the American League of MLB, is built around size and power. Just as American League teams tend to feature 250-pound designated hitters and sluggers with home-run clout, SEC West teams tend to emphasize bulk and strength.
For instance, Alabama depends on 6-10 Jermareo Davidson and 6-8, 250-pound Richard Hendrix. Arkansas gets a lot of mileage out of 7-0 Steven Hill, 6-10 Darian Towns, 6-10 Vincent Hunter and 6-8, 245-pound Charles Thomas. LSU relies heavily on 6-9, 280-pound Glen Davis, 6-9 Tyrus Thomas and 6-8, 240-pound Darnell Lazare.
The SEC's Eastern Division, like MLB's National League, is built more around speed and finesse. Kentucky, Florida and Vanderbilt start three guards. Tennessee and Georgia essentially start four guards each.
This helps explain how Pearl is batting 1.000 against the East but just .500 against the West. His undersized Vols match up fairly well with the former but they clearly struggle against the latter.
"LSU, Alabama and Arkansas are as big and physical and athletic as any teams we're going to play against," Pearl said following Saturday's home-floor loss to the Razorbacks. "Add Oklahoma State and Memphis, and there's your five losses."
He has a point. All five teams that topped Tennessee featured big, athletic front lines. Consider:
- Oklahoma State beat Tennessee 89-73 on Dec. 22 by getting 15 points and 11 rebounds from 6-8, 240-pound David Monds, by getting 14 points from 6-8, 260-pound Mario Boggan and by dominating the backboards 38-25.
- LSU beat Tennessee 88-74 on Jan. 14 by getting 24 points from Glen Davis, by getting 17 points and 9 blocks from Tyrus Thomas, by getting 10 points from Darnell Lazare and by dominating the backboards 43-25.
- Alabama beat Tennessee 92-79 on Feb. 18 by getting 17 points from Jermareo Davidson, by getting 16 from Richard Hendrix and by winning the backboards 40-31.
- Arkansas beat Tennessee 73-69 on Feb. 25 by getting 15 points from Darian Townes, by getting 11 from Charles Thomas, by getting 10 from Vincent Hunter and by dominating the backboards 45-24.
On a positive note, Tennessee is done with the SEC West. The Vols' two remaining games are against SEC East foes Kentucky (Wednesday) and Vanderbilt (Saturday).