One of the more tangible ways Bruce Pearl impacted Tennessee was in its non-conference scheduling. During Pearl's six years Tennessee played home-and-homes (or something close to it) with Oklahoma State, Ohio State, Kansas, Pittsburgh, UConn, and of course, Rick Barnes and Texas. During the last four years with Cuonzo Martin and Donnie Tyndall the Vols' non-conference schedule has lacked as much punch, with NC State, Virginia, Wichita State, and Butler the only major home-and-homes the Vols scheduled.
It's unclear exactly how deep Barnes will want to get the Vols in right away in the non-conference pool with a roster full of such turnover, but in Austin he was not shy about putting the Longhorns out there against elite competition early, despite playing in a consistently powerful conference. Here are Barnes' major non-tournament, non-neutral site scheduled games in the last few years at Texas:
- 2014-15: at UConn, vs Stanford
- 2013-14: at North Carolina, vs Michigan State
- 2012-13: vs North Carolina, at Michigan State
- 2011-12: at UCLA, at North Carolina
- 2010-11: at Michigan State, at UConn, at Southern Cal
- 2009-10: vs Michigan State, vs Southern Cal
- 2008-09: at Notre Dame, vs UCLA, at Wisconsin
- 2007-08: at Michigan State, vs Wisconsin
- 2006-07: at Michigan State, vs LSU, at Tennessee
- 2005-06: vs Tennessee, at Memphis
Barnes typically scheduled his two big non-conference games as the last two before conference play began. This is in addition to preseason tournaments and neutral site matchups, or setups like the SEC/Big 12 Challenge that saw Texas face Vanderbilt and Kentucky the last two years. As you can see, Barnes loves Izzo.
So who and how will Tennessee look to schedule in the future?
Get the Memphis Rivalry Back
Josh Pastner and Tiger High just went 18-14 and 10-8 in the American, the eighth-best conference in college basketball according to RPI. No matter how he and Memphis may have been misled by John Calipari, the Tigers could use this rivalry just as much as the Vols, and at times recently more so. Most recently the Vols and Tigers were set to agree on a four-year home-and-home series
after Memphis walked away in 2013, but we've had two seasons now without the in-state clash. Perhaps one of Calipari's buddies can shed some light on this issue, and Barnes can get the Tigers back to the table in November or December.
Barclays Center Classic (and beyond...)
Tennessee is set to participate in the Barclays Center Classic
in Brooklyn for this year's preseason tournament, but the field is definitely lighter than what the Vols have seen most recently in Orlando and the Bahamas: Cincinnati, George Washington, and Nebraska are the other headliners. But perhaps having this year be a step-down in usual tournament competition is good, because the Vols are going back to Maui in 2016
and hopefully they'll be bringing more talent with them to face at least two of UConn, Georgetown, North Carolina, Oklahoma State, Oregon, and Wisconsin.
Tennessee has a return match with Butler on the road in December
. The Vols should also draw another Big 12 foe in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge after beating Kansas State in Knoxville this year and sitting out the first round of the challenge in Cuonzo's last year. After that, the schedule is wide open. Tennessee fans would obviously jump at the chance to get Michigan State home-and-home if Barnes and Izzo want to continue their long-standing relationship. With Texas playing North Carolina several times recently and Barnes from Hickory, that's another dream match-up Tennessee has never been able to put together, even under Pearl. It may still be a dream for now, but Barnes' longevity and likability in this business should help Tennessee get better games in Knoxville than what we've seen the last four years.
Tennessee needs to go back to playing Memphis, to be sure, but the Vols have also missed opportunities to play the other strongest teams in the state in the last few years, by accident or design. Belmont, Chattanooga, and Middle Tennessee have all been in or around the NCAA Tournament
the last few years. But the Vols haven't played the Mocs since 2011-12, and haven't played Belmont or Middle (outside the NIT) since 2010-11 (when Pearl scheduled all three of them in the same year). With a young roster it's certainly dangerous for next year's Tennessee team to play someone like Belmont. But I would definitely be in favor of Barnes putting teams like that back in the rotation more often.
Who would you like to see Tennessee schedule with Rick Barnes at the helm?