Tennessee's 84-58 loss at South Carolina this week was bound to get a little lost in the shuffle between two press conferences and the ongoing conversation on culture. The Vols cut Carolina's early lead to 31-28, then were outscored 53-30 over the final 28 minutes.
But Rick Barnes found a way to get everyone's attention back, and added some additional intrigue for tonight's game with Arkansas. Barnes pulled Robert Hubbs and Detrick Mostella in the first half and didn't play either of them in the second, opting instead for 18 minutes of walk-on Brad Woodson. In the aftermath Barnes, as usual, wasn't shy:
Barnes 'Hubbs wasn't going back in that game regardless.' In response to being asked if Hubbs injured.— Rob Lewis (@Volquest_Rob) February 25, 2016
Barnes 'I'll lose games to set the culture in this program. I'll lose games to teach a lesson, to show them what's acceptable.'— Rob Lewis (@Volquest_Rob) February 25, 2016
You know that age people reach when they no longer look when backing out of the driveway? That’s what Rick Barnes does with interviews.— Wes Rucker (@wesrucker247) February 26, 2016
Tennessee is 13-15 (6-9), probably without its best player until the SEC Tournament if not the rest of the year, and needs to win its last three games to have any flicker of NIT hopes going to Nashville in a year when it hasn't won two games in a row in league play and has won once away from Knoxville. That's not a fun sentence. But thanks to the postgame carryover, manifesting itself today with Hubbs and Mostella out of the projected starting lineup, the Vols are not without intrigue.
The most optimistic versions of what this team could be next year all include some form of, "Robert Hubbs arrives." The former five-star has increased his production in every category but three point shooting percentage in his three years in Knoxville. Obviously playing for three different head coaches isn't ideal, but statistically he has shown improvement during his time here. But beyond the stats and specifically beyond scoring, Barnes has frequently cited effort or "competing" in his back and forth with Hubbs. And all aboard hope there remains some significant room between now and his ceiling. The two are clearly still figuring it out, but will have just one more year together if the relationship can be salvaged.
Hubbs and Mostella would both be part of the 2016-17 Vols, as will most of the players who saw the floor in the second half in Columbia. Shembari Phillips averages 14.5 minutes on the year but has averaged 31 minutes in the last six games. He'll join Admiral Schofield and Kyle Alexander as true freshmen in the starting lineup today if form holds.
There's always good news in Knoxville, where the Vols are 5-2 in league play and were a breath away from being 6-1 against Texas A&M. Better news today could be the arrival of Arkansas, which walloped Tennessee 85-67 in Fayetteville but has also won just once away from home this year (at Missouri on January 12). The Hogs, who have a much longer history of struggling away from home, are coming off a 20 point win over LSU, but as we know beating LSU doesn't necessarily mean you're special. In their two previous road outings they lost at Mississippi State by 32 (!) and at Ole Miss by 16.
As such it will be important for Tennessee to get off to a good start tonight, which they've typically been good at in Knoxville. Much of Tennessee's future will be on the floor tonight; we'll see how much Hubbs and Mostella are a part of it.
7:30 PM, SEC Network. Go Vols.