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Pearl said the NBA's Stu Jackson informed him and Lofton that he wasn't on the first-round bubble. An official statement from Lofton is expected later this week.
"So, that's not where he's at and he's excited about coming back [to Tennessee]," Pearl said. "It's a good decision."
No question about that because with Lofton returning you can pencil in Tennessee as the SEC favorite, not just in the East, but overall.
The Volunteers were all set for a rematch with Memphis in the Elite Eight after holding a 17-point halftime lead on Ohio State in the Sweet 16, only to lose by one as a final shot in the final possession got swatted away by Greg Oden. The Vols' only senior was Dane Bradshaw. So, it's hard not to look at Tennessee as one of the national favorites, too.
Lofton led the Vols with 20.8 points a game, shooting 41.9 percent on 3s.
"We had a good first year [second round], followed that up with a good year again [Sweet 16] and for us to be a top 20 program, we have to be consistent," Pearl said. "Our theme for next season is 'Remember the Alamo.' We were up 17 and lost to Ohio State [in San Antonio]. And remember, the Final Four next year is in San Antonio."
The Vols will challenge themselves next season with home games against Ohio State and Memphis and will head to Xavier. The Vols are also in the Legends Event, a 16-team tourney that will see Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and tentatively Washington State host two likely winnable games before the four teams head to Newark for a four-team tournament the Friday-Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.