KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Change remains the only constant at Tennessee.
Tennessee is on its third coach in as many seasons after NCAA issues caused the Volunteers to fire Donnie Tyndall after only one year. Replacing Tyndall is Rick Barnes, who got dismissed at Texas despite leading the Longhorns to NCAA Tournament appearances in 16 of his 17 years on the job.
Barnes has earned NCAA bids 19 of the last 20 years overall and says that remains the goal at Tennessee, even though he’s facing a tough challenge in his debut season.
“I do think that we’ve got to give credit to the previous coaches because we walked into a (good) situation,” Barnes said. “I think we’ve got a group of guys that are going to compete. That’s something that you don’t take for granted. The one thing I do think is that they will compete. Our job now is to teach them to play the way we want them to play.”
Barnes inherits a roster that lacks size and ball handlers. The Vols must replace Josh Richardson, who earned first-team all-Southeastern Conference honors while leading Tennessee to a 16-16 record last year. SEC media have picked Tennessee to finish 12th in the 14-team conference.
The Vols are hoping Barnes can provide the stability that’s been missing from this program the last couple of years.
Last season, Tyndall hadn’t even coached a game at Tennessee when it was revealed that the NCAA was investigating his tenure at Southern Mississippi. Tyndall was fired because Tennessee correctly determined the NCAA would say he’d committed major violations at Southern Mississippi
While many Vols insisted Tyndall’s NCAA issues didn’t bother them during the season – senior forward Derek Reese said he’d actually forgotten about the Southern Mississippi investigation until Tennessee fired Tyndall in March – sophomore guard Detrick Mostella said it “most definitely” was a distraction.
“We didn’t try to let it get to us, but I know some of the players let it get to them,” Mostella said. “It was a big distraction for our team. … It feels much better (now) not having a distraction.”
Although Texas is investigating allegations of academic misconduct in its men’s basketball program, Texas officials have said the university “has no information that suggests” Barnes knew of or was involved in any academic improprieties.
Here are some other things to watch with Tennessee.
WHO’S THE POINT GUARD?: Tennessee doesn’t have a pure point guard available to play because the NCAA ruled freshman Lamonte Turner ineligible for this season. Seniors Kevin Punter and Armani Moore will get the first shots to play the point. Punter’s a natural shooting guard. Moore can play just about any position.
LACK OF SIZE: The Vols have only three players taller than 6-foot-5. Kyle Alexander is 6-9, Ray Kasongo is 6-8 and Reese is 6-7. Alexander’s a freshman. Kasongo, a sophomore, is a Division I newcomer. Tennessee’s lack of size could cause problems.
DIFFERENT DEFENSE: Tennessee’s coaching change has resulted in a switch in defensive strategies. Barnes primarily utilizes a man-to-man defense, while Tyndall favored a matchup zone.
POINTS FROM PUNTER: The Vols will need plenty of scoring from Punter, who averaged 10.3 points per game last season. Barnes has raved about Punter all season and has referred to him as a coach’s dream.
MOORE’S VERSATILITY: Moore has filled just about every possible role for Tennessee the last few years. He was recruited as a point guard but found a home last season as an undersized power forward. Now the Vols will need this stat-sheet stuffer to handle the ball more in his senior season.