Pearl returns to Tennessee; Texas A&M wants to keep rolling

Here are things to watch in Southeastern Conference basketball this week:

GAME OF THE WEEK: Auburn at Tennessee: There may be more important games this weekend in terms of the SEC standings, but for pure theater, nothing can match Auburn coach Bruce Pearl's return to Knoxville. Pearl coached Tennessee from 2005-11 and led the Volunteers to NCAA tournament appearances in each of his six seasons before getting fired amid an NCAA investigation. Even after his departure, Pearl remained so popular in Knoxville that fans circulated an online petition to bring him back as Tennessee's coach last year. Pearl instead landed at Auburn and will face his former school for the first time Saturday.

LOOKING AHEAD: Texas A&M has won five straight games and has a chance to solidify its status as the league's second-best team behind top-ranked Kentucky. The Aggies host Vanderbilt on Saturday and then travel to Mississippi and Missouri before three straight home games against Georgia, Florida and LSU. They have a reasonable chance to win each of those games if they continue playing the way they have lately. The Aggies are on their longest conference winning streak since February 2011, when they still played in the Big 12.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Arkansas guard Michael Qualls scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half to give Arkansas a 69-64 triumph over Tennessee on Tuesday. He also had 30 points in a 93-91 overtime victory over Alabama last week. Mississippi's Jarvis Summers scored all of his 22 points in the second half to help the Rebels rally for a 79-73 victory over Mississippi State on Wednesday.

NUMBERS GAME: Vanderbilt's six-game skid is the program's longest since losing nine straight in February 2003. ... Ole Miss is shooting nearly 80 percent on its free throws, which is the best mark in NCAA Division I. It also would lead the NBA. ... Dating back to last season, Kentucky has won 24 of its past 25 games. The only loss was in the national championship game to Connecticut. ... The SEC had six teams in the RPI top 50, according to the NCAA's latest rankings on Thursday, including Kentucky (2), Arkansas (18), Georgia (24), Texas A&M (34), LSU (36) and Ole Miss (48).

ON THE WOMEN'S SIDE: No. 21 Georgia must play the remainder of the season without leading scorer Shacobia Barbee, who underwent surgery Wednesday after fracturing a bone in her lower right leg three days earlier at Tennessee. Barbee's injury occurred just two weeks after No. 10 Kentucky lost starting point guard Janee Thompson for the rest of the season due to a broken fibula.

-----

Complied by AP Sports Writers Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tennessee, and David Brandt in Jackson, Mississippi.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.