Expectations are soaring with the Vols coming off a 22-8 record, an SEC East title and a No. 2 seeding in the NCAA Tournament last season.
"After having a big season, you have to try and maintain a level of success and consistency," Pearl said. "To gain respect you have to do it again and be consistent. We are a young team. We will progress. I am not focused on the end result. We just have to get better as the season goes on."
Although he prefers to look forward, not backward, Pearl is pleased with the accomplishments of his 2005-06 team.
"We deserve credit for what we did last year," he said. "To win the Eastern Division, we beat Florida twice. Knowing that you can compete with teams going to the Final Four, you do ask, 'Why not us?'"
Florida and Kentucky are ranked 1-2 in the Eastern Division by SEC-area media participating in the preseason poll. Pearl believes that's a fair assessment.
"I would place Florida and Kentucky at the top of the East," the Vol coach said. "After them you can put the Tennessees and Georgias. Alabama and LSU are on top of the West and Arkansas is talented again this year. The West will keep getting better with teams like Auburn and Ole Miss getting stronger."
Senior Dane Bradshaw said the Vols are "jealous" of Florida and LSU for making the Final Four last March, adding that "lack of depth and crucial injuries" hurt the Vols' bid. He thought Tennessee's players became a little complacent near season's end, as well.
"We almost seemed satisfied come tournament time, because we had such an improvement in our season compared to the year before that we were not as hungry as we should be," Bradshaw said. "This year, after we have experienced the tournament, we will be ready to play I think."
Junior guard Chris Lofton said going 22-8 last year after going 14-17 in 2005-06 was quite a thrill.
"It was very exciting to be a part of last season's experience, especially with the NCAA tournament bid and the seed that we got," he said. "Also, considering the losing season that we had before last years season makes last year's experience that much more special."
Lofton says Pearl deserves much of the credit for the dramatic turnaround, calling him a "very intense, very interactive coach. He shows up at every game that way and never lets up from the time he gets there until the time he leaves.
"He was the reason we improved so much last season. We were the same team as we were the year before but, with his addition, we improved that much more."