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Rick Barnes talks Tennessee’s progression, previews North Carolina

Big game Sunday.

NCAA Basketball: Lipscomb at Tennessee Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

The 7-1 Tennessee Volunteers are set to get their toughest home test yet on Sunday. The defending national champions — the No. 7 North Carolina Tar Heels — are set to invade Thompson-Boling Arena.

The looming big game didn’t change Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes’ tone at all.

“All I’m worried about is getting better,” Barnes said in his Wednesday press availability. “We’re not there yet. We’re only one third of the way through the season, so if this was all we were going to be, I’d be disappointed.” You’ve got to love Barnes’ attitude there.

When asked specifically about Roy Williams and North Carolina, Barnes had high praise.

“His teams play hard. They run — they consistently run as hard and as well as any team in the country. If you don’t get back they make you pay. I think they had 20 offensive rebounds against us last year. They rebounded 45-46 percent of their misses last year, so that puts a lot of pressure on finishing possessions.”

Barnes continued, “His teams know who they are. They know what they want to get done. They’re a little bit younger than they were last year, but to me, they look like a Roy Williams coached basketball team.”

North Carolina offers yet another big game for Tennessee this year. They’re no stranger to the big contests this year, already having faced Villanova and Purdue in the Battle 4 Atlantis. This one will take place on their home floor, however.

“If nothing else, I hope it can be a learning experience for them,” Barnes said. “This is where we want to be — and even better. If they can’t handle that, then they can’t handle playing high level basketball. We want to be a program that’s big on everybody’s schedule. We don’t want to be the program where — Tennessee’s coming in, no big deal. We want people to know we’ve got a good basketball program.”

Barnes paused and reiterated the fact that they weren’t there yet though. “We’re working to get there. We’ve still got guys that we’ve got to get going to be the team that we want to be.” Barnes singled out John Fulkerson, Chris Darrington, Derrick Walker and Yves Pons.

Still yet, Barnes sounds plenty confident in his group. “You beat Kentucky at home, why can’t you beat other people?”

There’s no reason why they can’t. We’ve seen this team hang with the new number one team in the country in Villanova. We’ve seen this team find ways to win with different players stepping up down the stretch.

This would be another big step for the Volunteers — and I see no reason why they can’t take it come Sunday.