Rick Barnes Expectation vs. Reality

After Friday’s final horn sounded, what was your initial reaction? Were you mad? Surprised?

Now, after letting it stew for some days, what are your thoughts?

Still surprised?


Are you on the side of this being the biggest let down in Tennessee basketball history?

Do you think Rick Barnes’ time at UT is coming to an end?

Personally, I can understand the initial frustration and emotions. But, if you are surprised, that is on you and you must not have followed the roller coaster that was the Tennessee Volunteer offense.

Just look at these numbers from the game:

Last Friday was the worst of “Bad Tennessee” this season. Rick when describing how the player looked at the start of the game used the phrase “shell shocked”. You could see it, the whole line up had stage fright. All these kids have played in big games. Even the Freshman. These were 5 star freshmen in the 2010s, where their Instagram and Twitter followings brought out packed crowds at every single game they were in. 

I even felt that Tennessee came out in the first 3 possessions rather lackadaisical and just didn’t seem ready to play.. Now I tried to put that to bed in my mind by saying that’s just the way some of the Vols players just kinda carry themselves, but that initial hunch was correct. Josiah Jordan James said in the post game presser, that the nerves were there, but calmed sometime in the middle of the first half.

That was way too late against Oregon State who looks to be just a Human Torch type of hot right now. 

Honestly, I’m not trying to discredit what Oregon State did and has continued to do. They’ve executed as well as anyone in the tournament. They sat in the paint and forced, more I say double dog DARED, Tennessee to shoot from the perimeter all night. They sat in the paint on drives and made Tennessee uncomfortable. Getting uncomfortable is not something this Tennessee fought through well. Good teams withstand runs and bad shooting stretches. Good teams would figure out after 25+ games that they settled for mid range shots. Will Warren wrote a great article detailing the love Tennessee found with The Infatuation of the mid range jumper.  

Alluding to correlation of getting uncomfortable and settling for mid range jumpers. There weren’t enough times where Tennessee adjusted this shot selection in or before games. Players never wanted to get uncomfortable, make an extra move, attack the lane, and get past that initial fear of getting stuffed to learn to adjust to finish layups. There seemed to be a hold on the throttle most of the time with this team. Maybe they would get to the lane, but it ended up in a fade away mid range challenged jumper. 

Sure Pons elevates over people on his fade away, but that completely takes him out of an offensive rebound situation. 

It’s little things such as that I felt Rick and this coaching staff never adjusted this season.

From all the great things that Barnes has done for Tennessee.The biggest might be the drastic and awesome development he brought to players so early in his coaching tenure. Think about it. Look all the way back at what he did for Kevin Punter. He got this 6-4 guard from the Bronx who was only averaging 10 ppg. To be the first to buy into the culture. Punter the next season averaged 22 ppg on 46% shooting overall and 37% from 3. Oh and help make Punter a 2nd Team All-SEC player.

Let’s not forget to mention the head honcho VFLs of this Rick Barnes era, Grant and Admiral. 

  • Grant was a 3 star who was ranked 191 Nationally
  • Admiral was also a 3 star & was ranked 251 Nationally 

Now, both those guys are playing in the NBA and are legends in Knoxville.

The list goes on with HIGHLY underrated players who bought into Barnes’ culture and became All SEC Caliber players.

  • Jordan Bone (NBA and G League) 
  • LaMonte Turner (2018 SEC 6th man of the year)
  • Kyle Alexander (NBA, G-League, & Spanish Liga ACB)
  • Yves Pons (SEC Defensive player of the year)
  • John Fulkerson (All SEC 2nd team) 

All these guys are the highlights and I only put down accolades. But Rick and his staff have put together what is one of the best skill development programs for players. All the players mentioned above improved drastically understanding the game and grew in their approach to the game. 

All that development, media attention,recruitment of 5 star players, and rather surprising success early on has led to Rick Barnes to now be paid as a Top 5 coach. All those numbers behind the $ sign, lead to the floodgates of scrutiny. 

I will say, I think this 2020-2021 season is pound for pound Rick Barnes biggest blunder. With the overall talent combined with the lack of consistency/dud performances, it’s hard to argue with some of the dissatisfaction with fans. March isn’t Rick Barnes best month.He’s 24-25 overall in the Tournament in his 17 year career now. Another tough aspect of that stat is he’s been to the tournament 16 of 17 years coaching. He’s only been to one Final 4 and if you look at seeding vs. success, he has underperformed most times as Tennessee’s head coach in the tourney. 

You can say that they ran into the buzzsaw that was Loyola-Chicago in 2017-18.

You can say that Purdue, Kline, and Carsen Edwards had the greatest night of their life and it still took OT to beat the Grant Williams & Schofield lead Vols.

You can say this year Tennessee just ran into the hottest team in the country. Oregon State did just knock out next year’s No. 1 overall pick, Cade Cuningham on Sunday. 

There is always context with wins and losses, but Rick doesn’t want the context or the excuses. He does want to win. He has the same Expectations that the Tennessee fan base does. Winning, and winning in March.

Sure fans are going to hold the UCLA offer and comments against him. Especially in combo with his Top 5 coaching salary. What fans also have to understand is where Tennessee basketball was before Rick Barnes’ resurgence.

Remember Donnie Tyndall? Yea, the dude that looked like a off brand version of the Penguin from Batman.

Remember Conzo? Remember how boring that offense was. I know that situation was completely unfair to Martin and don’t condone what seemed to be a bad situation for him. As far as basketball goes, it was a tough brand of basketball to watch. 

We all remember Bruce Pearl. Yes he’ll be a “what might have been” in the minds of Tennessee fans for a long time. BUT, he’s on a self imposed postseason ban again, due to recruiting violations again.

Chad Withrow had a good tweet about the coaches Rick gets compared to in conference.

But here is the Reality part of this article. Sometimes I think this Vols fanbase has to take a step back and realize that this success is fantastic. The Tennessee program is a regular in the media when it comes to basketball. Are you ever going to be Kentucky, UNC, Duke, or even Michigan State? Probably not. But right now Rick Barnes is doing as well as most of those in the recruiting department and definitely in the development.

Can you be disappointed in this year’s underperformance? You sure as hell can. It wasn’t great and it was super frustrating. But, what you can’t do is think you can fire Rick Barnes and get someone to replace him and his success in this program soon. 

Lastly, Kim English is going to be great for George Mason and the Tennessee basketball program will miss your skill set. Kim did a fantastic job in the recruitment of Kennedy Chandler, who announced even with Kim moving on, he will still be a Vol. 

Not just Kim English, but look what Rick has done for assistant coaches such as Rob Lanier becoming Georgia State’s head coach in 2019. Great assistants and great players are drawn to Rick Barnes, people. The man can elevate your talent and get you to your next level. 

So, where are you at?
Does Rick still need to go, if he’s going to continue to be subpar in the tourney?
Or is it a process that needs to keep developing in Knoxville?

Honestly, really appreciate you guys reading. You can follow me at Mcgreen423

And check out our latest March Madness Mini Series.

Apple: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/chatttenn-sports/id1437673601?i=1000514215266

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4gMEPrIfw4

Stay classy all you wonderful VFLs, 


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