Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes is clearly going to stick with the girl he’s bringing to the dance. For good or for worse, the Vols aren’t going to make any adjustments to their current style of play.
Here is what Barnes had to say when asked what he thought about his team being outran during their recent run, which included a 2-3 record in their last five games.
One could argue that Barnes’ stance is just fine, especially after the Vols beat No. 1 Alabama on Wednesday to move to 20-6 and 9-4 in the regular season. After all, Tennessee basketball is ranked 10th in the country. They could stumble through the rest of the season and still be a solid seed in the NCAA Tournament. However, the concern is the Vols are stumbling despite holding off the Crimson Tide. Why? Tennessee’s style of play just isn’t very titillating.
That has some pundits predicting a quick exit for the Vols in the NCAA Tournament and that Tennessee can’t score enough points to hang with a hot-shooting team. That may well be true, but if the Vols continue to play like one of the best defensive teams in the nation – as they have all year – there’s reason to think the Vols can be a successful team in March, or at least a tough team to knock out of the tournament.
As long as Tennessee wins, there is no concern about their style of play. Barnes is correct about that. However, what happens when the Vols are struggling with their half-court offense. Tennessee just doesn’t create easy baskets despite its highly rated offense.
That’s perhaps the most frustrating aspect of a defense-first, slow-paced team. There doesn’t seem to be options and, if there is one, Barnes apparently isn’t willing to consider it. A fast team can slow things down, but a slow team usually can’t suddenly up the pace.
Tennessee’s best teams have almost always had the ability to get up and down the floor. Unless the Vols go small and utilize a quicker lineup, then the Vols will be limited in that regard this year. Don’t look for a roster or philosophical change anytime soon. Unless Barnes has a change of heart, that’s not going to happen.
It’s worth noting that none of this will matter if Tennessee basketball reaches the Final Four or wins a national championship this season. No one complained that Tennessee won a national championship in football in 1998 with a defensive-minded group. This, however, is not football, and that team was much more adaptive than Barnes is willing to be.
The 1998 national championship team played ball-control offense to match its defensive nature. The Vols quickly departed from any notion of throwing the ball as much or as aggressively as they did the previous season when Peyton Manning was at the helm.
So this much is clear based on Barnes’ recent comments. Tennessee basketball will either win a national championship in basketball or they won’t, but they’re going to do it his way.