Hostile environment?

Tennessee's basketball team plays its first road game of the season today but that isn't a big concern for Vol head coach Bruce Pearl. He figures his team is much more likely to be overwhelmed by No. 6 Texas' talent than by the atmosphere at the Erwin Center in Austin.

"I think Texas is a much better team than they are a hostile environment," Pearl said. "Rick Barnes has said for a couple of years that they've still not created a basketball environment on par with their basketball team."

Still, the Vols face a daunting challenge in today's game (2 p.m. EST tip-off on ESPN). Suffice to say, Texas (8-1) represents a little step up in competition over the five mid-major programs the Vols have faced thus far.

"I'd say it's more than a LITTLE step up in competition," Pearl said with a laugh. "Texas is one of the top teams in the country. This is definitely a Final Four-caliber opponent we're playing, and it's on the road. It won't get any tougher than this."

While the best-case scenario would be a shocking Vol victory, a solid performance in a competitive loss would be almost as beneficial. Tennessee could learn a lot about itself this afternoon.

"This is an opportunity to get exposed," Pearl said. "It's a chance to find out things we need to work on to get better."

Although the Vols have a lot of areas they need to work on, they're already thriving in one area.

"The way the guys have bought into the system is the best thing that's happened so far," Pearl said. "They've created an identity for themselves – that they're going to play aggressively and with passion. Our shooting percentage is an indication they've been unselfish."

Whereas Tennessee's offense has been productive, its defense still needs an awful lot of work.

"Defensively, we're not fundamentally solid," Pearl conceded. "We make up for our lack of solid play by being aggressive. If we can get to the point where we're aggressive AND well disciplined, then we'll be more competitive."

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