Tennessee head basketball coach Rick Barnes spoke with the media at the Chattanooga stop of the Big Orange Caravan on Thursday night. He spoke on how his offseason is going so far, along with how they plan to move forward after a disappointing finish to their 2017-18 season.
“Every year you’ve got to remake yourself,” Barnes said. “We feel comfortable with the fact that we’ve got guys that you’ve done a lot with and you’ve watched how they’ve matured and understand what they have to do to get better.”
Barnes couldn’t speak on incoming grad-transfer Khwan Fore, but he did acknowledge the move. Tennessee has one more open scholarship to fill during the 2018 cycle. They’ve been connected to a handful of grad-transfer players, along with a few freshman prospects. The one to watch here is probably four-star center DJ Burns, who reclassified to the 2018 class earlier this week.
Barnes said that we shouldn’t expect to see the same team next season, despite the fact that Tennessee has virtually the same group of players returning in 2018-19.
“We’re not going to be the same team we were a year ago. We’re not going to play the same competition we played a year ago. I believe other people in the league will get better. I know that we’ve got to get better. What we did last year was good, but we know we have to get better.”
It’s tough to envision a scenario where this team doesn’t get better. Barnes brings back his entire coaching staff and lost just two players in James Daniel and Chris Darrington. That continuity is going to allow this group to prepare a little more in depth, according to Barnes.
“We really wanted to add some things to our defensive side this year that we never really got to because we were working so hard just to get our man defense to where we wanted it,” Barnes said. “So where we’re set up — we hope the mental side, we’re going to be sharper there. We’re going to get more done in less time and hopefully be able to spend more time with each guy individually. They understand that it’s not going to be easy.”
Tennessee will go from the hunter to the hunted this coming season, but Barnes isn’t too worried about that either.
“Everyone talks about us being picked 13th in the SEC in the preseason,” Barnes said. “From February on, we weren’t picked 13th. So we got a really good taste of that coming down the stretch. They know how fine of a line those games were.”
To his point, the Vols entered SEC play as a ranked team and managed to stay inside the top 25 throughout conference play. Tennessee got a lot of teams’ best shots down the stretch and just kept finding ways to win for the most part.
Still, the hype around this team is going to be off the charts as we get closer to the season. We’ve already seen some way-too-early polls place the Vols inside of the top five. How they deal with those expectations and praise will likely define their 2018-19 season.