Keeping perspective

A Tennessee basketball team pegged for mediocrity in preseason suddenly finds itself with a 12-3 record, a share of the SEC East lead at 3-1, a No. 19 national ranking and a rabid fan following.

As a result, head coach Bruce Pearl finds himself approaching legendary status just three months into his debut season. His reaction: Ho hum.

"I'm old enough to have this thing in perspective personally," Pearl, 45, said this week. "Coaches get way more credit than they deserve when they're winning and we tend to get more blame than we deserve when we're losing."

Pearl has been down this road before. He previously revived struggling programs at Southern Indiana and Wisconsin-Milwaukee, attracting hero worship at both of those stops, too. Thus, he understands that there's a fine line between fans getting excited and fans getting swept up in unrealistic expectations.

"I know where it is," he said. "It's appreciated. It's fun. I'm glad we've been able to make a connection, particularly with the student body. And, as I've said before, I think people are coming out not because this team has won but because of the way this team has played. You have to win enough, though, to get them to come out and believe. I think people did come out and believe we could beat Florida."

Last Saturday night's 80-76 upset of the second-ranked and previously unbeaten Gators before 24,000 delirious fans was the best thing that's happened in UT basketball in a long, long time. Still, that monumental victory will be quickly forgotten if the Vols lose the focus and intensity that got them 12 wins in their first 15 games.

"What my team has to understand, what people have to understand, is that the win over Florida doesn't mean any more than any other SEC win at this point," Pearl said. "We're going to have to win enough of those games to put ourselves in position to be selected for the (NCAA) Tournament. We're not anywhere near there yet."

That's because the Vols still have 12 SEC games and the conference Tournament to play before the NCAA Tournament bids are extended.

"Every game is going to be pretty competitive," Pearl said. "I'm very pleased to have three (SEC wins) on the left side but we'll just take ‘em one at a time."

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