Auburn's record - 11-7 overall, 1-2 in SEC play - is unimpressive but it also may be deceiving.
"Six of Auburn's seven losses have come against teams ranked in the top 25 in the country," Pearl notes. "The only team they've lost to that is not ranked in the top 25 was at Southern Miss (56-54) at the buzzer, and Southern Miss is 11-4.
"We're playing an Auburn team that is terrifically improved, who hasn't lost to anything but great teams and one very good team on the road."
Six of Auburn's losses have, in fact, come at the hands of ranked foes. These are No. 12 Oklahoma State (66-65), No. 2 Wisconsin (77-63), No. 6 Pittsburgh (74-66), No. 8 Texas A&M (87-58), No. 25 Kentucky (84-57) and No. 16 LSU (65-63).
Like Tennessee, Auburn fields a small lineup and relies heavily on 3-point scoring. When the Tigers shoot well beyond the arc, they can hang with just about anyone. When they shoot poorly, they tend to get hammered.
"Auburn is hot or cold, as far as their (3-point) shooting is concerned," Pearl notes. "There have been nights when they were really on. They shot the ball great at home (14 of 28, 50 percent) when they beat Vanderbilt (68-65) and they didn't shoot at all well (9 of 33, 27.3 percent) when they went to Rupp Arena two or three nights later.
"How much of that is the difference between Vanderbilt's defense and Kentucky's defense and how much of that is some of their own inconsistency? Probably a little bit of both."
Tiger coach Jeff Lebo fielded a freshman-dominated lineup in 2005-06 and took some lumps because of it. His team has grown up quite a bit – and improved quite a bit – since then.
"They've gone from being a lot of freshmen to having a lot of sophomores," Pearl says. "You could see the same thing with Mississippi State – guys getting a year older, a year better and a year more experienced."
Like Mississippi State, Auburn relies more on speed and athleticism than heft and power.
"Auburn is a very athletic team," Pearl notes, "and Coach Lebo does a lot of things to use their athleticism.
"Quantez Robertson is a really fine point guard. They've got big wings. The transfer from Furman, Quan Prowell, is a really athletic, skilled 4 man…. They have tremendous athleticism in Prowell and Korvotney Barber, who was a very highly sought-after kid, as well as Josh Dollard."
Robertson, a 6-3 sophomore, ranks third among SEC players with 5.2 assists per game. The wings are 6-5 sophomore Rasheem Barrett (12.8 points per game) and 6-4 junior Frank Tolbert (11.5 ppg). Prowell, a 6-8, 215-pound junior, averages 11 points and 6 rebounds per game. Dollard, a 6-7, 235-pound sophomore, averages 11 points and 7.2 rebounds. Barber, a 6-7, 220-pound sophomore, averages 12.2 points and 6.5 rebounds coming off the bench.
Like the Vols (13-4 overall, 1-1 SEC), the Tigers' lack of size presents problems on the backboards. Auburn ranks 11th among the 12 SEC teams in rebound margin at minus-8.7. Tennessee is 10th at minus-7.5.
Auburn's height deficiency proved critical against towering Kentucky last week. Forced to bomb mostly from the perimeter, the Tigers shot just 27.9 percent from the field.
"What they don't have is what we don't have ... a dominant center," Pearl notes. "They overcame that against LSU but against Kentucky, Kentucky's size was a factor.