Whereas most coaches have losing records in SEC road games, Bruce Pearl has prevailed in 17 of the 29 he's coached, an exceptional 58.6 winning percentage.
Pearl's first Vol edition, the 2005-06 team, went 6-2 in SEC road games. The 2006-07 team, hampered by the midseason absence of star guard Chris Lofton due to an ankle injury, went just 2-6 in SEC road games. The 2007-08 team bounced back to post another 6-2 SEC road record, however, and the 2008-09 Vols are 3-2 with three road tests left.
"Road wins are sweet," Pearl said earlier this week. "I don't know what our record is on the road over the last few years but this year we were 3-0 on the road with a chance (at Auburn) to go to 4-0 on the road, in spite of all of our difficulties and challenges (with youth and inexperience)."
In spite of back-to-back road losses at Auburn and Ole Miss, Tennessee is 3-2 in SEC away games this season. The Vols' three toughest road tests, however, are still to come – at Kentucky on Saturday, at Florida on March 1 and at South Carolina on March 5.
As fate would have it, those three teams are tied with UT atop the SEC East standings with matching 7-4 records. On a positive note, Tennessee controls its own destiny. By winning out it would finish 12-4 and ensure that the other three contenders finish no better than 11-5.
Winning at UK, at Florida and at South Carolina is a tall order, of course. That's the task the Vols left themselves, though, by suffering home losses to Kentucky (Jan. 13) and LSU (Jan. 28).
"You'd take winning 'em all at home and splitting on the road," Pearl said. "But we haven't won 'em all at home. Therefor, we have to make it up."
Trying to "make it up" at Rupp Arena will be difficult. Although he went to Lexington and won 75-67 in 2006, Pearl subsequently lost 76-57 in 2007 and 72-66 in 2008.
"Obviously," he said, "it's a tough place to play."