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Vols’ Rick Barnes Will Deliver On Preseason Prognostications

Tennessee has the right coach to get things done in 2018

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Florida
Barnes is always pushing his team to get better
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Expectations.

The word is defined in a variety of ways for those who are loyal to the Tennessee Volunteers. Disappointment, apathy, success, pride - the rollercoaster of emotions that accompany the brith of a new season are known all too well.

For the men’s basketball team, expectations haven’t been higher since the Bruce Pearl days and Rick Barnes knows it.

“Once we got through with the season and they had a little bit of time, which wasn’t much, we went in a room and talked about where we were and what we had done last year. We simply said, ‘Now that’s over with; that’s done with. We’ve got to start over like every team in the country. We don’t get to start back where we finished,” Barnes said at his Media Day Press conference.

That’s good news for the Vols. Even though there is plenty of senior leadership in Kyle Alexander, Admiral Schofield, Grant Williams and others; they’ve never tasted success like an SEC championship.

That in itself is enough of a challenge to overcome. The advantage for the Vols is Barnes. Tennessee enters the 2018 season ranked inside the top five in most polls and now that the target is on its back, the players will need someone to guide them through a season where everyone will give their all against Tennessee.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Tennessee vs Loyola Chicago
The Vols will have a huge target on their back in 2018
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

But that’s a position you want to be in. You want the best from every team every night, because that will only make you better in the end. It’s a weapon that if utilized correctly, can pay major dividends for a team’s growth.

“With excitement around the program right now, I’m really happy for our guys, because I know they worked hard. But that excitement alone won’t get done what we need to get done. It’s going to continue to take hard work, it’s going to take commitment, and it’s going to take focus,” Barnes said.

One of the Vols’ main driving points of last season was the fact that they operated as a team. Sure, Schofield could’ve left for the NBA and Williams was the SEC Player of the Year, but without others like Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bone, Jordan Bowden, etc. - the Vols wouldn’t have won a share of the SEC title.

According to Barnes, Tennessee likes it that way, too.

“To be frank, there are some players that don’t want the spotlight on them every night. They want to be role players,” Barnes told reporters at the podium. “There are some players that are like, ‘Hey, let me have it.’ That’s the kind of team you want. We’re ranked, we’re good.”

And Barnes knows what it’s like to be good when expectations are high. Since he has been a Division I head coach, he’s had three seasons where he was ranked in the top five coming into the year.

The chart below shows a quick snapshot of the results. As you can see, things went well for the most part.

A quick look at Barnes’ track record when his teams are ranked fifth or better in the preseason...

School Season Preseason Ranking Weeks In Top 5 Weeks In Top 10 Weeks In Top 25 Best Ranking Worst Ranking Final Regular Season Ranking/Record Tournament Finish
School Season Preseason Ranking Weeks In Top 5 Weeks In Top 10 Weeks In Top 25 Best Ranking Worst Ranking Final Regular Season Ranking/Record Tournament Finish
Texas 2002-2003 4th 11 17 17 2nd 10th 5th/26-7 Lost Final Four
Texas 2005-2006 2nd 6 14 17 2nd 15th 9th/30-7 Lost Elight Eight
Texas 2009-2010 3rd 10 12 15 1st N/A Outside Of Top 25/24-10 Lost First Round

Barnes finished ranked inside the top ten twice out of three opportunities and also advanced past the Sweet Sixteen in both of those occasions. He gave Texas their first No. 1 ranking in school history.

The Vols haven’t passed the second round of the tournament since Cuonzo Martin led them to the Sweet Sixteen in 2013.

The mixture of talent, senior leadership, and Barnes’ coaching abilities should be the springboard that sends this team to the next level this season. Living up to the expectations coming into this season will be one of the many accomplishments that the Vols will snag this year and it will be fun to watch.

“Let’s go and see what we’ve got,” Barnes said with a determined look. “We’re willing to go play anytime, any place, anywhere. I like that. If you lose, you say good job and go back to work and see what you can do.”