Did Pearl over-schedule?

With Brandon Crump, Scooter McFadgon and Jemere Hendrix missing from a 2004-05 squad that went 14-17 with them, Tennessee's basketball team does not appear capable of competing with the NCAA's better programs. But that hasn't stopped Bruce Pearl from scheduling them.

In addition to the usual Southeastern Conference toughies, the Vols' 2005-06 non-conference schedule features three road games that appear to be sure losses – at Texas (Dec. 17), at Oklahoma State (Dec. 22) and at Memphis (Jan. 18). So why did Pearl schedule these games?

"I just think that before you can be the best you have to beat the best," he said recently. "From my standpoint, before you can be the best you have to act like it, and we are just trying to get the program to a different level. I think you certainly have to look at Texas, Oklahoma State and Memphis as challenging."

He paused thoughtfully, then added: "But then, they are going to come HERE next year."

And that's a good thing … bringing in superior opponents to beat you in front of your home fans?

"I want our fans to see the best basketball in the country," Pearl said, "so we are going to try to schedule a couple of people at the high end every year."

Pearl also wants to get Tennessee a bid to the NCAA Tournament, something that has eluded the Vols four years in a row. He can't accomplish that by feasting on creampuffs.

"You have to send a message to the NCAA Tournament Committee," Pearl said. "Only one team (from the SEC) gets an automatic bid, and that is the conference tournament champion. The rest of us are coming in at-large, so you have to give the committee a look at your non-conference schedule and have them say, ‘This team wants to be in our tournament to compete for a national championship based on their schedule.'

"You can't set up your schedule just to win, because that's not the only objective. If we had only scheduled teams we knew we could beat, our schedule wouldn't look anything like it does. It's about preparing for the tournament and getting ready for the SEC. There's got to be a balance between winning enough games to get in the tournament and winning enough games to keep my kids confident, and being challenged."

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