When Jarnell Stokes announced his return to Tennessee for his junior season, it looked like the Vols had a team primed for a tournament run. Stokes and Jeronne Maymon made up one of the most powerful interior duos in the country, and both had garnered all-SEC honors in the last two years. Jordan McRae had emerged as one of the SEC's best scorers. Robert Hubbs was primed to add a 5-star talent to the Vols backcourt. Josh Richardson still remained as a defensive stopper, and Darius Thompson was recruited to add some backcourt depth. And, while sometimes painfully inconsistent, Trae Golden could play point guard.
With all that talent elsewhere, Tennessee needed someone who could consistently bring the ball up the floor, especially under pressure. Trae Golden, while sometimes maddening, could do that. And as the Vols saw against Arkansas and Georgia when Golden was injured, no one else on the roster could.
So when Golden announced on May 7th that he was transferring away for his senior year, a team that looked ready not just for the NCAA tournament but for the second weekend suddenly had a gaping hole at the point. And, with McRae and Maymon in their last year of eligibility and Stokes looking for his chance to enter the NBA draft, it looked as though Cuonzo Martin may be losing his best opportunity to show the fans he can build a winner.
As of today, Tennessee has a point guard again, and the Vols have expectations again. Antonio Barton, after being beaten out by Joe Jackson at Memphis, has decided to transfer to Tennessee, choosing the Vols over Maryland, Texas A&M, and Kansas State. Because he graduated from Memphis in three years, the transfer will be covered by the same rule that brought John Fields to UT in Bruce Pearl's final year. Barton will be able to play immediately.
While Barton has not been the model of consistency that Tennessee fans hope for and is not the prototypical pure point guard, he does have experience just bringing the ball up the floor, which the Vols desperately need right now. At Memphis, he started for roughly half the season both his freshman and sophomore years before losing the starting job as a junior. His shooting percentage fell after he lost his starting job, but he is a career 41.7% shooter from beyond the arc and averaged 6.9 points per game for the Tigers. His assist to turnover ratio stayed consistently in the vicinity of 1.3.
It remains to be seen how Barton will fit in with a new team and a new coaching staff, but while he probably won't be a game-changer in orange, he may well be as valuable as one if he can simply plug a massive hole in a very talented starting lineup.