Great expectations

Tennessee's basketball team won't slip up on anybody this year, and that's fine with the Vols. Stronger credibility and higher expectations mean they are no longer considered an also-ran incapable of challenging the SEC's elite teams.

That's a positive step, no matter how you slice it.

"Definitely," senior forward Dane Bradshaw says. "It's nice NOT to be the underdog. People are worrying about us not being able to sneak up on people but we're coming in with the mentality that we're here to defend the (SEC East) title, get ourselves to the next level and play like champions."

The greater expectations stem from a surprising 2005-06 season which saw the Vols shock Texas in Austin, sweep eventual national champ Florida, win the SEC East championship, earn a No. 2 seeding for the NCAA Tournament and ultimately finish 22-8.

Bradshaw's personal expectations are higher, as well, even though he enjoyed a fine season in 2005-06. The versatile Memphian averaged 7.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. He ranked second among the Vols in assists with 116 (one behind C.J. Watson) and third in steals with 56 (just four off the team lead).

Bradshaw accomplished all of this despite playing the final month of the season with a serious injury to his right (shooting) wrist. He postponed surgery until after the season, then spent most of the summer rehabbing. As a result, he is just now getting his strength back to where it was last year.

"Dane's off-season was quite limited by the surgery on his wrist," head coach Bruce Pearl says. "He's 100 percent now but he could only lift with one side of his body for a couple of months. Dane is not stronger than a year ago but he is as strong as he was a year ago. He's fine there. And, obviously, he has a year's experience."

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