Solving Superman

Some Tennessee basketball fans believe Bruce Pearl is the SEC's version of Superman. If so, the K in UK must stand for Kryptonite.

Pearl's superpowers seem to wane whenever he's around the University of Kentucky, which visits Thompson-Boling Arena for a noon tipoff on Sunday. The Vol coach beat the Wildcats the first time he faced them – Feb. 7, 2006 at Lexington – but he has dropped three of four meetings since then. The Big Blue beat Pearl's Vols 80-78 in Knoxville on March 1, 2006, defeated them 76-57 in Lexington on Jan. 28, 2007 and handed them a 72-66 setback earlier this season in Lexington. Tennessee's only victory during this span was an 89-85 triumph at Knoxville on Feb. 13, 2007.

If this were the perennial powerhouse Kentucky of old, Pearl's losing ledger against the Cats would be understandable. But the Wildcats haven't exactly been themselves lately. They lost 13 games in 2006, 12 in 2007 and already have dropped 10 games in 2008.

Tennessee football fans can relate to this phenomenon. Former Vol head man Johnny Majors seemed snakebit (4 wins, 12 losses) against Alabama; successor Phillip Fulmer has found the going tough (5 wins, 11 losses) against Florida. Of course, their struggles with the Tide and Gators, respectively, were borne out over the course of 16 meetings. Pearl has faced Kentucky just five times, so his problems with the Cats may yet prove to be more of an aberration than a cause for consternation.

Still, the numbers are eye-catching. Pearl is 31-11 against the rest of the SEC but 2-3 against the Big Blue. By comparison, his record against two-time defending national champ Florida is an amazing 4-1. He is a perfect 6-0 against Georgia and a spotless 3-0 against Mississippi State.

Moreover ...

- The Big Blue is the only team in college hoops to beat The Big Orange in each of Pearl's first three seasons.

- Kentucky is one of only two teams to whip Tennessee on its home court during the Pearl era. Arkansas is the other. All told, Pearl is 43-2 at Thompson-Boling Arena.

- The Cats are the only SEC team that has managed to post back-to-back wins vs. the Vol coach, prevailing in the last meeting of 2006 and the first meeting of 2007. Otherwise, Pearl has avenged every other SEC setback he has suffered to date.

He lost to LSU, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky and South Carolina (SEC Tournament) in 2006, winning the next meeting against every foe except UK. He suffered league losses to Vanderbilt, Auburn, Ole Miss, Kentucky, Florida, South Carolina and LSU (SEC Tournament) in 2007, but again avenged each loss the next time out. Just two SEC teams have beaten the Vols this year ... Vanderbilt and – who else – Kentucky.

Except for the Cats, the only college program to beat Pearl's Vols in back-to-back meetings thus far is Ohio State. The Buckeyes edged the Big Orange 68-66 in Columbus on Jan. 13, 2007 and prevailed 85-84 in the NCAA Sweet 16 last March. Pearl won the third meeting, 74-69 earlier this season in Knoxville.

Kentucky (16-10 overall, 10-3 SEC) will be a decided underdog Sunday at Thompson-Boling Arena. The Wildcats found out Friday morning they have lost their best player, 6-9 Patrick Patterson, to a season-ending stress fracture. Moreover, the top-ranked Vols (25-3, 11-2) are rested and motivated after losing Tuesday night at Vanderbilt.

Bottom line: If UK somehow finds a way to beat Pearl again this weekend, that K may really stand for Kryptonite.

PEARL VERSUS THE SEC

2-1 vs. Alabama

2-1 vs. Auburn

2-1 vs. Arkansas

6-0 vs. Georgia

4-1 vs. Florida

2-3 vs. Kentucky

2-2 vs. LSU

2-1 vs. Ole Miss

3-0 vs. Mississippi State

4-2 vs. South Carolina

4-2 vs. Vanderbilt

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33-14 vs. the league


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