"It's very meaningful," Pearl said. "What it means for these guys is that they finished ahead of Florida for the fourth time in five years. That's significant."
Finishing third in the rugged SEC East is no small accomplishment this year, given the quality of teams in the division.
"I want them to be proud of that. I don't want them to be proud of the basketball we played (Wednesday night) but I want them to be proud of finishing third in the East this year, given (the strength of) Kentucky and Vanderbilt."
Being proud is nice but being able to advance in the league tourney is even nicer, and that's the most significant benefit of finishing third in the Eastern Division this year: The Vols have a much easier path to the SEC Tournament finals as a 3 seed.
By beating Arkansas and locking down the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Division, Tennessee will open SEC Tournament play on March 11 against LSU, the No. 6 seed from the Western Division. The Tigers, 1-14 with one conference game remaining, are by far the SEC's weakest team. Basically, facing them is the next-best thing to a first-round bye.
Had Tennessee lost to Arkansas and settled for the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Division, the Vols' SEC Tournament opener would've been against Alabama, the West's No. 5 seed. The Crimson Tide is no world-beater but, at 5-10 with one league game left, it presents a much stiffer test than LSU.
Being the East's No. 3 seed may earn Tennessee an easier second-round game, as well. Assuming the Vols beat LSU, their March 12 quarterfinal game projects to be against Ole Miss, the likely No. 2 seed from the West. The Rebels are 8-7 heading into their regular-season finale.
Had Tennessee lost to Arkansas Wednesday night and settled for being the East's No. 4 seed, the Vols would be looking at a quarterfinal matchup against Mississippi State, the top seed from the SEC West. The Bulldogs are 9-6 heading into Saturday's regular-season finale against UT.
Since Ole Miss tends to play Tennessee very tough, it could be argued that facing the Rebels in Round 2 as a 3 seed is a sterner test than facing Mississippi State in Round 2 as a 4 seed.
Here's the kicker, though:
Wouldn't you rather face Ole Miss in Round 2 after a Round 1 matchup with LSU than face Mississippi State in Round 2 after a Round 1 clash with Alabama?