SEC: Good Old Rocky Top

By Doug Kroll - October 25, 2006

They are finally singing Tennessee's theme song, and one of the most addictive one's in the nation, again loud and clear during home games. The Vols came out of nowhere last year and would up with a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, in Bruce Pearl's first season at the helm. The 2006-07 version of the Vols may be a tougher task than last year's crew. Chris Lofton and Dane Bradshaw our back, and attended Media Day along with their head coach, but one figure who will not be back is Major Wingate after being dismissed from the team, a key blow to Tennessee.

That means that the 2nd and 3rd leading scorers are gone for the Vols, with C.J. Watson graduating. A lot was learned during last year's run to the tournament. A new system was put into place by coach Pearl when he arrived, and the guy's thrived. After squeeking past Winthrop on a shot by Lofton, and losing to Wichita State, the players are able to look back and realize what a great year it was. Lofton remembers vividly the awful season the team had before Pearl's arrival in Knoxville.

"Coming off of the freshman year that we had, it was a great experience," Lofton said. "It was a dream come true, it was a great experience for us, and this year our mindset is to not just make the tournament, but go farther in it."

Bradshaw had the same ideas about the magical ride last year.

"I think that the postseason was new to all of us," Bradshaw said. "After we lost, I think we realized that we didn't take advantage of the great situation that we had. It was unfortunate, but hopefully we learned that we're not just trying to get to the postseason, we're trying to get to the postseason and have success."

With Wingate's dismissal, both Bradshaw and Lofton think the team can move past it.

"I think that losing Major is a huge loss for us, but we need to rally and find other ways to get it done," Lofton said.

"It really was a big blow," Bradshaw said. "But I don't think that it's anything that we can't overcome. The coaches have confidence in their ability, and we do as well, and the thing that I was probably most upset about was thath some of our young guys really could have thrived playing alongside Major, so now they are going to have to do it without him, but it definitely creates some great opportunites for the young guys."

Coach Pearl had an interesting take on the league last season, with everyone obvioulsy still abuzz about Florida and LSU making it to the Final Four. He thinks that the league is better off now that Kentucky isn't the league's best team, as they had been considered for years. Kentucky is still Tennessee's biggest rival. Also when asked about Joakim Noah of Florida coming back, Pearl said that he saw Noah at the Adidas Summer Camp in Atlanta and Noah told him that the reason he's coming back was to make sure that he beats Pearl and Tennessee twice. Pearl laughed and told him that it may be three times.

Posted by Doug Kroll at 06:06 PM on October 25, 2006

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