"Auburn has won two road games already," UT head coach Bruce Pearl said, referring to a 74-67 win at Baton Rouge on Jan. 16 and a 90-78 shocker at Oxford last Saturday. "What happened at LSU? What happened at Ole Miss?"
Whatever it was, it nearly happened at Nashville on Feb. 2.
"Auburn was down 22 at Vanderbilt and got within one," Pearl said of a game the Tigers eventually lost 78-71.
So, why is an Auburn team that stands just 3-7 in SEC play such a pesky foe on the road? In a word, experience.
"This is my third year, and I've seen all of these guys play over and over again," Pearl said. "They've got three seniors and a couple of juniors that have played a lot of basketball."
Auburn has two first-rate seniors in 6-8 Quan Prowell (14.3 points, 5.9 rebounds per game) and 6-4 Frank Tolbert (12.8 points, 5.2 rebounds). The Tigers also have a pair of quality junior starters in 6-5 Rasheem Barrett (13.7 points, 4.2 rebounds) and 6-3 Quantez Robertson (7.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists).
Statistically, Auburn looks better on paper than its 13-10 overall record suggests the team is. The Tigers rank second among the 12 SEC teams in field-goal percentage (47.4) and in steals (8.87 per game). They are fourth in rebounding defense (32.7 per game) and third in 3-pointers made (8.2 per game) in SEC games only.
"Six guys are averaging over one made 3 per game, so there's great balance," Pearl noted. "It's not like one or two guys are knocking 'em down. As a result, you've got to get out and guard Quan Prowell, who is a 3 man (small forward) playing the 5 (post). He's a lot like Wayne (Chism). He's a tough, tough matchup.
"And Frank Tolbert, who was a guard for them last year, is playing like Dane Bradshaw (did for UT in 2005-06 and 2006-07). He's playing their 4 spot, and that's a tough matchup."
Thanks to a seven-game winning streak and a 29-game home-floor streak, the Vols are expected to win handily Wednesday night against an Auburn team that has lost five of its last six games. Even with a celebrated shootout against top-ranked Memphis coming up on Saturday, Pearl says his team will look past Wednesday's game.
"We can be as ready as we want to be," the coach said, "but we're still going to have to play really well to beat Auburn, the way they're playing right now."