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So You Bought A Barnes...

A primer on all things Rick Barnes from your Texas brethren

Resting Barnes Face
Resting Barnes Face
Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

Hello, Volunteer faithful, Bitterwhiteguy here. I'm one of the basketball bloggers from SBNation sister site Barking Carnival, passing through to offer up a primer on your latest coaching hire, Rick Barnes. I've spent nearly 2 decades watching him and his teams, and I figured you might want a little information on what to expect upon his arrival to MemphisNashvilleHarlen Knoxville. First off, no bright light. Don't get him wet. And never, ever feed him after midnight.

Wait, sorry, wrong list; that's for Mack Brown.

*shuffles through papers*

Here we go.


I'm starting with defense because that's what Rick Barnes will start with. Barnes has always been a defense-first coach, and that won't change as long as he draws breath on this earth. His last act on this planet will be to pull a player who missed a defensive rotation. Barnes' teams usually play 80%+ of their possessions as a man defense; this year was a bit of an exception due to the significant length he possessed on his roster. He could post up a back line that went 6'11, 6'10", 6'10" when he went big, so he decided to try his hand as a 2-3 zone that funneled guards to the rim where their shot was blocked with great regularity(20% of all defensive possessions ended in a blocked shot, better than even Kentucky). The 2-3 is a bit of an anomaly for Barnes, though he will throw it out here and there against teams who he doesn't feel possess elite outside shooting. Looking at your current roster, I don't expect he'd use a lot of zone, though that could change depending on who he recruits in the off-season. So you're probably going to see a lot of man defense with a focus on getting defensive rebounds. As he recruits longer athletes to the school, you'll likely see an increased focus on contesting interior shots as well. I wouldn't expect a lot of turnovers from Barnes' teams, he's been average in generating turnovers during his Texas tenure. This year was really bad, but it was a tactical decision on Barnes' part due to the aforementioned design of funneling shooters into the big men. In short, you're likely to see a tough, physical man defense that stays in front of its man well and grabs more rebounds than you might expect from the guys he puts on the floor.



I'm half-joking, but the truth is that Barnes doesn't have a single offense he always runs. He's run a flex offense, a blocker/mover offense, he's run uptempo and he's played low-tempo feeding the post. I've seen him put 3 big men on the floor together and play a 1 in/4 out lineup(in the same game). He spent one off-season learning from Jerry Sloan at Utah and another learning from Mike D'Antonio during his Suns days. Barnes is willing to learn new offensive schemes and he tends to adapt his offense to suit the talent on hand, which is good; but his offensive prowess is fairly dependent on his assistants, which is not so good if he's got the wrong staff in place. I'd pay close attention to who he brings with him to UT as they'll play a prominent role in getting the offense to execute properly. If Barnes has one offense he tends to default to, it's the random ball-screen offense. This is the offense he tends to favor if he's got an elite point guard on campus because it maximizes their ability to create offense on the fly. Otherwise, there are a number of offenses you could potentially see depending on the talent on hand, but none of them are going to be beautiful on a regular basis. The one caveat is if he decides to push the ball in transition with regularity, his teams tend to do well when out on the open floor. What his teams do very well on the offensive end is grab their misses. Barnes teams are traditionally very good on the offensive glass, there are 2 years out of the last 13 that Texas has ranked outside the top 50 nationally in OR%. Barnes teams don't shoot very well, but they usually get significantly more chances to shoot than the competition because they clean the glass to a mirror shine. Free throw shooting will vary wildly by year, but I wouldn't expect more than 'D1 average' most years.

(Side note: Barnes gets a lot of flak from some corners for not drawing up good inbounds plays, which is FULMERIZED. He's secretly one of the better guys in the NCAAs at this, which I attribute in no small part to his close friendship with Tom Izzo. Izzo's phenomenal at drawing these plays up.)

The upside of Barnes is that he spends a lot of time on defense & coaches a cohesive defensive team, the downside of Barnes is that he coaches in the NCAA - where there's a limit on practice time - so every extra minute he spends on defense is a minute that's not spent on offense.


I'm going to speak in generalities here as I'm not very familiar with how Tennessee recruits these days(admittedly, I haven't paid much attention to y'all since Bruce Pearl was shoved out a rear window with his pants in his arms). Given the choice, Rick Barnes tends not to recruit a specific type of player for a specific role that much. What I mean is he's not one to say "I need 2 more 3-point shooters" when looking at his squad, rather he goes out looking for athletes who may be a little raw but have a ton of potential. Take a kid like senior-to-be Prince Ibeh, a guy that can't hit the broad side of a barn from more than 5 feet away but can jump out of the gym 3 times before you dribble twice. Or take a guy like Demarcus Holland, a guy with elite athleticism and an ability to lock down 3 positions defensively but only recently started to hit more than 25% of his 3s. In fact, I'd urge all of you to spend some time checking out Demarcus Holland, because that kid is exactly the kind of player Barnes adores. Holland works his FULMERIZED off in the gym, on the court, and in class, and will run through a brick wall for Barnes if Rick asked. That kid has worked his way from a 3-star that didn't get much attention outside of the state of Texas to a guy that might make a NBA camp as a free agent when he graduates. Barnes would clone 6 of him if he could(and you guys would probably enjoy the havoc that would ensue). All things being equal, Barnes will probably recruit pretty well at Tennessee, I think.


  • Rick Barnes runs as clean a program as you can in a world full of AAU filth. I know everybody likes to think their program is pristine, but Barnes seems to be one of the few that's actually able to stay relatively clean. His guys are rarely in trouble with either the NCAA or the law - and when they are, he boots them off the team(see Martez Walker) - and he doesn't have Worldwide Wes trolling the sidelines. He's been largely locked out of the Dallas-area because of his unwillingness to play the game with AAU coaches, though he has become friends with influential AAU coach John Lucas(yes, that John Lucas) through his son Jai Lucas who was on the Texas squad & subsequently a grad assistant on his staff. If he brings Jai along with him to Knoxville, you could start seeing a Houston pipeline to Tennessee. But I don't think you need to worry about NCAA issues as long as Barnes is your coach.
  • Barnes may bring along Todd Wright, who is one of the best S&C coaches in the country. That guy is amazing; if you want some proof, look up the freshman pictures of Dexter Pittman & Cameron Ridley and compare them to now. Dex looked like Escalade from the And-1 Tour when he came to school and by the time he left Wright had knocked 100 pounds off his frame. He's doing the same thing for Cam right now. Todd Wright is a hell of a hire if you get him.
  • He's not one to talk about it publicly much - in fact, prior to his last press conference I hadn't heard him mention it hardly at all - but Barnes is a devout man of faith. That may or may not be important to you, but it's part of his character. Rick Barnes is a good man, and he'd be a good man if he was a janitor. He's got a quick wit, a million stories, and has never met a stranger. When he was let go, the stories of his good deeds around Austin poured in like a flash flood. The Austin reporters almost unanimously said he's their favorite coach to cover in the last 20 years. I think you'll like the guy a lot.
  • Rick Barnes doesn't curse at all; he changed that a few years back & has stuck to it. Meanwhile, I've edited out half a dozen F bombs from this piece alone.

In summation, I think you've found yourselves a keeper. He may never take you to the Final Four, but chances are good he'll win 20+ games/year and keep you in the hunt for a SEC title for as long as you'll have him.