Antonio Barton

The big question with Antonio Barton: can he play the point for Tennessee?

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One of the most controversial rules in the college game these days is the graduate transfer exception.

It works like this: if a player finishes his undergraduate degree with eligibility remaining, he is allowed to transfer to a different school without sitting out a season to enroll in a graduate program that’s not offered at his previous institution.

The thinking is that, since these kids are supposed to be STUDENT-athletes, if they have a chance to get a graduate degree in a field of their choosing, the NCAA shouldn’t stand in the way of that because it could cost the kid their final year of eligibility.

The problem is that the rule gets abused. Players that have redshirted a season use the rule not as a means of finding a better graduate program, but instead using it to try and find a better basketball program to spend a year at. Think Brandon Wood transferring to Michigan State from Valpo, or Julius Mays going from Wright State to Kentucky.

But the exception isn’t a bad thing, and this weekend we got a perfect example of that.

Antonio Barton followed his brother Will from Baltimore to Memphis to play his college ball, but where Will was a five-star recruit that every coach in the country wanted, Antonio was a three-star point guard that was in the same recruiting class as Joe Jackson. There wasn’t much expected of the smaller Barton, and most viewed his recruitment as a package deal. If you want Will, you have to take Antonio, too.

But as Jackson struggled through his freshman campaign, Barton emerged as a quality back court piece, averaging 8.2 points and 1.7 assists in his first season with the Tigers. His numbers have dropped since then, but that has everything to due with the development of Jackson and Chris Crawford and the addition of Geron Johnson. After struggling through an injury-plagued junior year, Barton made the decision to transfer out of Memphis once he realized he would be able to graduate.

He ended up committing to Tennessee on Sunday, and while the Vols are one of Memphis’ biggest rivals, it couldn’t possibly be a more perfect fit for Barton.

Tennessee has a ton of talent on their roster this season. Jarnell Stokes is one of the better big men in the SEC, and he may not even be the best big man on the roster when Jeronne Maymon is healthy. Throw in Jordan McRae, who had a breakout junior campaign, and talented incoming freshman Robert Hubbs on the wing, and the Vols had a ton of pieces for Cuonzo Martin to work with.

The problem? Trae Golden got the boot earlier this month, and he was the only point guard Tennessee had on their roster. Barton will slide in and take over that role.

Here’s the question: is Barton a point guard?

We know he can really shoot the ball, and we know that he is a defensive stopper. Both of those traits, particularly his defensive skills, will let him fit in well with Martin. But Tennessee also needs him to be a guy that can run offense, get the Vols into their sets and create off the bounce at the end of a clock.

Jackson, Crawford and Johnson played that role at Memphis while Barton was there. Does that mean that Barton just hasn’t shown what he can do, or is it a sign of what he can’t do?

Regardless, Barton’s presence turns Tennessee back a top 25 team.

And if he proves that he can truly be a point guard, the Vols might end up pushing Florida for that second spot in the SEC race.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

VIDEO: Kris Dunn wills Providence to win over No. 11 Arizona

Kris Dunn, Elliott Pitts
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Kris Dunn spent the first 35 minutes of Friday night’s game against No. 11 Arizona in foul trouble, splitting his time between sitting on the bench and trying to avoid finding himself, again, on the wrong side the whistle.

With 11 minutes left in the game, and with Dunn yet to find a rhythm, the all-american point guard was whistled for his fourth foul as he battled for a rebound with Arizona’s Mark Tollefsen. Head coach Ed Cooley say his superstar beside his for six game minutes, time enough for Arizona to turn a 49-47 deficit into a 58-54 lead.

There were just over five minutes left when Dunn reentered the second semifinal of the Wooden Legacy, and he proceeded to show everyone in the country why he was named the Preseason Player of the Year. Providence had nine possessions after he reentered the game. Dunn scored 11 points and had a pair of assists on those eight possessions, and if Ben Bentil had stuck a wide-open three — that was setup by Dunn — the Friars would have scored on all nine.

In total, Dunn was responsible for all 15 Friar points in a game-changing, 15-7 run in the final 4:30. It was capped off by this Kobe-in-his-prime-esque game-winner:

The win for Providence is huge for a couple of reasons:

  • Dunn showed a killer instinct against a marquee opponent, something that we didn’t necessarily see out of him a season ago. He wasn’t going to let his team lose, and given that Providence doesn’t have anyone else that can consistently create good shots, they are going to need that from him a lot this year.
  • It makes a statement for the Friars. Arizona is overrated at No. 11 in the country, yes, but going out on national television against an elite program and getting this kind of performance from Dunn is a confidence-booster and a tone-setter. Providence hasn’t been accustomed to winning in recent years. This is a way to set a trend.
  • Ben Bentil continues to play like a star. Dunn had 19 points and eight assists on Friday, but Bentil followed up a 24-point performance in the win over Evansville with 21 critical points on Friday.

This win sets up a matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence on Sunday night, which means that Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — the two best players in the country, sorry Ben Simmons — will be going head-to-head.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.