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Basketball Vols can finish season with a clear conscience regardless of record

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There have been plenty of fair complaints about Tennessee’s basketball program recently. Lost games top the list, but things could be drastically worse.

Missed free throws and a slow pace of play are points of contention during the Vols’ recent 1-4 run that has seen them plummet from being considered one of the best teams in the country to just another team in a big pack of mediocrity. However, none of that even comes close to comparing to what is going on with one of the highest-rated programs in the nation that just happens to be an SEC rival. For all the hand-wringing and fretting about the Vols’ play on the court, there are no murder charges in Knoxville.

In a world in which the grass always seems greener elsewhere, Rick Barnes’ yard seems pretty plush while Alabama deals with a scandal that cost one person her life. While no coach is perfect, it’s hard to imagine Barnes ever being a part of what is going on at Alabama. 

Barnes’s resume speaks volumes about his integrity. I find it hard to believe that Barnes would be a part of withholding information about a possible accomplice in a capital crime and allow that person to continue to play basketball as the case unfolded. Morality or not, Barnes is just wiser than that.

Alabama coach Nate Oats isn’t accused of withholding information from the police, but he assuredly didn’t want it to become public knowledge that his star player, Brandon Miller, returned a gun to his teammate, Darius Miles, who would eventually be accused of murder.

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I find it unfathomable to think that Barnes would allow a player who was even remotely a part of exchanging a murder weapon to continue to play as is the case with Miller. Oats said he knew Miller returned the gun to Miles shortly before the incident. There is no chance Barnes would have allowed a player to play had he known that information. It’s just common sense. Who would want to tarnish a long, distinguished career with such a putrid decision made by either Oats or the Alabama administration?

Barnes may not win the Final Four this season, but he assuredly won’t lead the Vols to disgrace, which is exactly what is happening at Alabama. The Crimson Tide may make the Final Four while the Vols watch. Alabama may also suspend its season, which it should, until all the facts of the case have come out. Getting knocked out of the NCAA tournament during the first weekend is a bummer. An innocent woman dying is a soul-crushing tragedy.

I’m not going to question Oats’ decision to bring Miller – or any of those involved with the case – to Alabama. Unfortunately, not knowing a player’s character is a byproduct of limited recruiting contact and, to some, brought about by the pressure to win at all costs. Oats may have not known that his players were sharing a gun. Once he did and the weapon led to a murder, any rational person would know that the player shouldn’t just keep representing a university as a student-athlete until the situation is completely resolved.

Oddly enough, I was recently asked if the Vols should get a scorer like Miller or a coach like Oats, who Tennessee athletic director Danny White hired while at Buffalo. That’s pretty much a moot point now. Alabama fans should consider which is worse: suspending the season or listening to the media continually discuss the situation during a deep tournament run.

Tennessee doesn’t look like it will make a deep tournament run. The Vols have issues on the court, but they could still get things righted and dominate March. No matter what happens, at least the Vols can have a clear conscience.

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