The Tennessee men's basketball team loaded the bus outside of Thompson-Boling Arena Wednesday afternoon a focused, confident bunch.
"Our guys understand that for us to advance in the tournament, we have to step up and have elevated play,'' Vols coach Bruce Pearl said. "We had a great practice and I sensed a great amount of focus today.''
Ninth-seeded UT (19-14) opens the NCAA tournament with a second-round game against No. 8 seed Michigan (20-13) on Friday (TV: truTV, 12:40 p.m.) at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, N.C.
Shortly after Pearl and his players headed for Charlotte, a taped interview with athletic director Mike Hamilton aired on radio station WNML.
Hamilton said in the interview he was uncertain of Pearl's future with the program, and the possibility of needing to find a new coach is one of the considerations in the timetable and decision.
The UT players were unaware of the athletic directors comments as they departed, however, and seemed in good spirits about the team's chances.
"I feel pretty good,'' senior Melvin Goins said. "We're well-prepared and we're focused.''
Tennessee senior Brian Williams said it's important the Vols don't place undo pressure on themselves.
"All I'm trying to think about is playing a basketball game,'' Williams said. "You take it any differently, and you get nervous. You can't let that tension get to you.''
Pearl reiterated that Michigan's motion offense will be difficult to prepare for.
But so, too, are the Vols.
"I think we're a tough preparation because we're multiple in the things we do,'' Pearl said. "I'm sure they will back off us and build a wall. They'll strip and rip, take charges and be physical in their post-up game with a lot of people.''
Pearl said he's unsure how much UT will have to contend with the 1-3-1 zone defense that Michigan coach John Beilein was once known for.
"Ninety-to-95 percent of the time they have been in man-to-man defense this season,'' Pearl said. "But the 1-3-1 is still in their arsenal.''