Bruce Pearl speaks at the Knoxville Quarterback Club's meeting
Handling adversity is one thing, but handling success is another.
Pearl said the game on Tuesday (TV: FSTN, 7:30 p.m.) with Middle Tennessee State (3-3) at Thompson-Boling Arena represents a trap game for the Vols (5-0).
"Our guys have a million (school) papers to do and finals coming up,'' Pearl said. "(MTSU) is getting us at a real good time. It's definitely a trap game.''
Tennessee has jumped from No. 24 in both polls to No. 13 in The Associated Press poll and No. 17 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll.
But the Vols are mindful they have a long way to go this season and don't plan on a letdown against the Blue Raiders.
"We know we can get better, and we have to get better,'' said UT junior Scotty Hopson, who scored one point in 24 minutes in the Vols' 75-54 win over MTSU in Nashville last season. "It's going to take mental focus to win this next game, and that starts with the veteran leadership setting a tone and bringing the energy.''
The Vols have not been impressive at home this season, losing by 15 points to Division II Indianapolis in an exhibition before squeaking past Belmont and Missouri State in games that were in doubt in the final minute.
Pearl said he's hoping Tennessee found itself at the NIT Season Tip-Off in New York, where it defeated Virginia Commonwealth, 77-72 last Wednesday, and Villanova, 78-68, on Friday.
"It gives the team a chance to build an identity,'' Pearl said.
"But this game worries me. (MTSU) is athletic and deep enough to give us trouble.''
The Blue Raiders average out-rebounding opponents by nine each game.
MTSU beat Evansville, 82-70, in its most recent game last Wednesday before Evansville turned around and beat last season's NCAA tournament runner-up, Butler, 71-68 on Saturday.
Blue Raiders coach Kermit Davis was confident enough to mention the possibility of a win against UT on Monday.
"We want to get better against Tennessee,'' Davis told The Daily News Journal, "but this game will not define us, whether it's an upset or whatever. There is no more added emphasis on this game.
"Our players will be better for playing this game no matter what happens."
The Vols, who have beaten the Blue Raiders eight consecutive times including a 109-40 pasting three years ago, have opened as 18-point favorites.
Maymon's Ready: UT sophomore transfer Jeronne Maymon said he's only got one exam left, and he's getting better than a C in all of his classes.
"I'm going to be ready,'' said Maymon, who could play as early as the Dec. 11 game at No. 3 Pittsburgh.
Pearl said Maymon will play at the four along with Tobias Harris and Steven Pearl, but added that Steven Pearl could see action at the three with Hopson and Skylar McBee.
Hopson Honored: Hopson was named the SEC Player of the Week for the first time after being voted the Most Outstanding Player at the NIT Season Tip Off.
Hopson recorded his first career double-double in the win over VCU, scoring 18 points and pulling down 11 rebounds. Against Villanova, Hopson had 18 points.