Reality is in the results for Tennessee.
What matters most to the top-seed Vols is they are on a two-game tournament winning streak and on their way to the Mideast Region semifinals against fourth-seed Xavier in Birmingham, Ala.
"To get two wins, that's momentum in itself," guard Kara Lawson said after Sunday's 92-75 second-round victory over St. Mary's. "The game showed us some things we need to work on."
That's where a different perception of UT's progression comes into play, one that matters more to the opposition. After disposing of Clemson 77-62 in the second round Sunday, Xavier watched Tennessee's game on television and got an eyeful of hope. The Vols didn't appear to be so far up the food chain as their top seed and lengthy tradition suggests.
"I learned people can play with Tennessee," Xavier coach Melanie Balcomb said. "I think it was good for our kids to see that game."
The Vols haven't looked as good as other years despite opening with an 80-38 win over Austin Peay and a 92-75 win over St. Mary's, but they have defended the bottom line. UT coach Pat Summitt doesn't care about the outcome between these dueling perspectives.
"What matters right now," she said, "is how we handle where we are and what we need to do. I don't think at this point of the year that we can expect to play anyone that's not sky high mentally and not looking to take it at us."
PURDUE: All-American Katie Douglas, whose parents died of cancer in a span of three years, is the first recipient of ESPN's V Foundation Comeback of the Year Award. Douglas has won the past two Big Ten Player of the Year awards and helped her team win the 1999 NCAA title. Purdue plays Texas Tech on Saturday in the region semifinals.