UT's in wrong division

Tennessee's chances of winning a division title this basketball season would be excellent ... if the Vols could switch from the East to the West.

Despite a No. 12 national ranking, an 18-5 overall record and a 6-3 SEC mark, Tennessee stands third in the East behind No. 3 Kentucky (23-1, 8-1) and No. 22 Vanderbilt (18-5, 7-2). Conversely, the Vols would be tied for the division lead with Arkansas (13-11, 6-3) if they were in the West.

Simply put, the East is a beast this season. Consider how well its teams have fared head-to-head against the West:

- Florida is 2-4 against the East but 4-0 against the West, including road wins at Arkansas and Alabama.

- Tennessee is 2-3 against the East but 4-0 against the West, including road wins at Alabama and LSU.

- Vanderbilt is 4-2 against the East but 3-0 against the West, including a road win at Alabama.

- Kentucky is 3-1 against the East but 5-0 against the West, including road wins at Auburn and at LSU.

- South Carolina is 3-3 against the East but 2-1 against the West, including a road win at Auburn.

The only Eastern Division team struggling against the West is sixth-place Georgia. The Dawgs are 2-3 against the East and 0-4 versus the West.

If you discount Georgia, the SEC East stands 18-1 against the West this season. Even with the Dawgs included, the East holds an 18-5 advantage.

None of this surprises Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, now in his fifth year at the Vol helm.

"During the regular season I think the last four or five years the SEC East has had the advantage - probably more so this year than any other year," Pearl said. " When you're loaded up at the top with Kentucky and Vanderbilt, that gives you a pretty good start. Tennessee to this point has been good and, obviously, (so has) Florida. South Carolina was good enough to beat the No. 1 team in the country, and Georgia is probably the most improved team in our league.

"I've said from the very beginning that the SEC East could get five teams in the NCAA Tournament. I just didn't know which five. I think it (success vs. the Western Division) is a function of the strength of all of those programs."

In addition, SEC East teams may benefit from having bigger arenas that hold larger home crowds. The two largest SEC venues - Kentucky's Rupp Arena (23,000 seats) and Tennessee's Thompson-Boling Arena (21,678) are located in the East. The three smallest venues - Ole Miss' Tad Smith Coliseum (9,061 seats), Auburn's Beard-Eaves Coliseum (10,500) and Mississippi State's Humphrey Coliseum (10,500) - are all located in the Western Division.

Pearl conceded that SEC East teams tend to have "tremendous home-court advantages," adding: "Every game we play on the road in the SEC East will be sold out, and we're currently third or fourth in the nation in attendance here in Knoxville."

Here's another possible explanation: The SEC West is down this year. Alabama (3-7) is breaking in a new head coach, Anthony Grant, while LSU (0-10) and Auburn (3-6) are breaking in a bunch of new players after losing three starters each from their 2008-09 teams.

Certainly, the West is not as strong as it was a year ago. Pearl's 10-6 SEC record for 2008-09 featured an 8-2 mark against East teams but just a 2-4 mark against West teams.

"My record against the West is probably a little above .500," the Vol coach said, "but not much."

Actually, Pearl stands 19-9 vs. the West to date, having gone 3-3 in 2005-06, 4-2 in 2006-07, 6-0 in 2007-08, 2-4 in 2008-09 and 4-0 so far this season. That's a 67.9 winning percentage. If you count a 2-3 mark in SEC Tournament games, he's 21-12 vs. the West, a 63.6 winning percentage.

By comparison, Pearl is 33-12 against the East for a 73.3 winning percentage. Counting a 1-1 record in SEC Tournament games, he's 34-13 against the East, a 72.3 winning percentage.

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