Challenging year for Rick Barnes doesn't compare to brutal year for Bruce Pearl

Auburn Athletics photo by Shanna Lockwood / Auburn five-star freshman point guard Sharife Cooper suffered an ankle injury last weekend that is expected to keep him out of Saturday's matchup against visiting Tennessee.

Tennessee's current men's basketball coach sure is having a much better season than one of Tennessee's former coaches.

Although Rick Barnes and his No. 25 Volunteers have not lived up to expectations as the preseason Southeastern Conference favorites, they still have a slew of attainable goals entering Saturday's noon showdown against Bruce Pearl's scuffling Auburn Tigers inside Auburn Arena. For Pearl, the only coach in Tennessee history to take the Vols to six consecutive NCAA tournaments and to the Elite Eight of the March extravaganza, waking up from this winter nightmare can't occur soon enough.

Auburn began Pearl's seventh year at the helm with a self-imposed postseason ban and with five-star freshman point guard Sharife Cooper facing an eligibility issue. Fellow freshman Justin Powell ran the point for most of the first 10 games before suffering what has become a season-ending concussion, and Cooper's dazzling play after being cleared by the NCAA was abruptly halted by an ankle injury last weekend.