There is a tendency among hoops officials in all conferences to call very few fouls on home teams and a bunch of fouls on visiting teams. This is known as the so-called "home whistle."
The Tennessee Vols are aware of the phenomenon. Here's why:
Vanderbilt shot 43 foul shots (making 37) in its Feb. 9 home game against Tennessee. The visiting Vols shot just 21 foul shots (making 13). The Big Orange wound up making more field goals (26) than Vandy (24) but lost by 19 due to the disparity in free throws.
Kentucky shot 30 foul shots (making 18) in last Saturday's home game against Tennessee. The visiting Vols shot just 13 (making 10). The Big Orange made just one less field goal (23) than the Cats (24) but lost by 11 points due to the disparity at the foul line.
UT head man Bruce Pearl has noticed the trend, and isn't happy about it. Still, he's smart enough to avoid criticizing the SEC officiating crew.
"We shoot 13 free throws; they shoot 30," he said following the loss to the Wildcats. "Vanderbilt shot 43 free throws and we shot 21. When you go on the road ... "
The coach caught himself at this point, paused briefly, then chose his words with great care.
"We have Georgia at home," he said, referring to Wednesday night's game at Thompson-Boling Arena. "I'm anxious to see what happens against Georgia at home."
In retrospect, the disparity in free throws Tennessee encountered at Nashville and Lexington is not surprising. The Commodores are averaging a whopping 31.2 foul shots per game through their first 10 SEC outings, easily topping the league in that category. Kentucky ranks second at 26.9 per game. Tennessee, by comparison, is attempting just 20.4 free throws per contest in league play.
"We continue to struggle on the road, getting to the foul line," Pearl said. "We've got to do a better job of taking the ball to contact without charging."
That was a critical issue in the loss at Lexington, as the Vols had five made baskets wiped off. Three were nullified by questionable charging calls; the other two were canceled by violations away from the ball.
One of the charging calls was especially controversial. Wayne Chism was whistled on a layup that saw him finish the play on his back. Kentucky's John Wall appeared to be standing beneath the goal and appeared to move underneath Chism. Either action by itself would've negated a charging call against Chism.
"Wayne was AT THE RIM and scored it," Pearl said afterward, clearly flustered. "We had three baskets taken away because of offensive fouls. That's nine points with the free throws (if deemed a block, instead of a charge). That was an issue. It was discouraging. But everything was a charge."
Given the free-throw disparity Tennessee encountered at Nashville and Lexington, it was probably understandable that Pearl opened today's news conference with these five words:
"It's good to be home."
No wonder. Home is where the heart is ... and where the whistle is.