Last night, Bruce Pearl's Tennessee Volunteers did away with the Evan Turner-led Buckeyes to advance to its first regional final ever in Tennessee men's basketball history. If you're like me, this seems rather surprising to you. After all, it's not as if Tennessee basketball is by-and-large terrible -- quite the opposite, in fact. The Vols are fairly routinely, especially under Bruce Pearl, a notable team, generally close to if not in the top 25, especially since Pearl's arrival in Knoxville five years ago. And he's becoming quite the celebrity in Knoxville.
Pearl is quickly making a Ray Mears-esque play for the hearts of Vol fans. As a coach, he's beloved by the Orange Nation -- some might even argue that the only thing he exudes more than salty, excessive amounts of sweat is confidence and charisma. Don't believe me? Check out his credentials. in seventeen seasons as a head coach, Pearl:
-has the fourth-best winning percentage among all Division 1 head coaches with at least three years of experience
-was the fastest coach to log 200 wins at one school
-was the second-fastest active head coach to win 300 and 400 career games
-owns the best career winning percentage among all Southeastern Conference head coaches
If you have any questions about these accolades, don't take them up with me; take 'em up with Bruce. After all, every one of those stats comes from Pearl's own official website CoachPearl.com. I might suggest he also add "is obsessed with superlatives" to his list of accomplishments. And "master showman and PR professional." Want proof? For Lady Vols games, Pearl has both painted his entire upper body orange and dressed as a Volunteer cheerleader. While this information and these mental images may deter you from attending Tennessee women's basketball, however, you can't say Pearl isn't making himself part of the fabric there on campus. I personally know several people who've met Pearl and have heard on multiple occasions how infinitely likable he is in person. And those weren't Tennesssee fans, mind you.
Also, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee seems to think he's still the head coach there.
And now Pearl takes the Volunteers to their first Elite Eight, facing Tom Izzo's Michigan State tomorrow afternoon in St. Louis, in a game which is absolutely bound to be packed with both green and orange, given Missouri's easy accessibility from both East Lansing and Knoxville.
How far can Bruce Pearl take this team? We'll see. All we know for a fact is that tomorrow's game is big for Tennessee. I mean, like "five extra sticks of Degree antiperspirant and possibly a few alternative t-shirts" big. Because two things are sure: the Volunteers are gonna be ready, and Pearl's gonna be sweaty. But Tennessee fans are fine with that -- after all, he's taking places they've never been before.