Show Me My Opponent: Alabama

The failure of the 2019-20 Tennessee basketball season started with Jordan Bone’s departure. This is of no dissent on Jordan; he made a business decision and it is one that any fan, rich or poor, should respect. If you have the opportunity to turn your craft into a professional career, you should take it. However, said departure left Tennessee with one returning starter: Lamonte Turner. Even Turner’s status as a “starter” wasn’t all that entrenched until late January 2019. Sixth man Jordan Bowden would return, as would bench players John Fulkerson, Yves Pons, and Jalen Johnson, of which fans had various takes on.

The failure continued with the quiet departures of both Derrick Walker (Nebraska) and D.J. Burns (Winthrop). Would either have been a serious factor for the 2019-20 Vols? No one’s sure. Walker’s sitting out this year, but Burns and Winthrop are undefeated at 10-0 in the Big South. Burns, at the very least, would be in the Tennessee rotation, likely giving Olivier Nkamhoua and possibly Euro Plastics another year of development.

The failure grew with the inability to attract a quality graduate transfer option as a year-to-year stopgap. Given Rick Barnes’ new contract, he knows and understands the pressure that comes with being a highly-paid coach in a town where college athletics is the #1, #2, #3, and #4 attraction. Being unable to land Kerry Blackshear over Florida is one thing; being unable to replace the Blackshear option with a quality, ready-to-go grad transfer behind him was another. I may be the biggest Euro Plastics fan in Knoxville, but even I would’ve been fine ditching the Blackshear idea early on for a quality mid-major option.

The failure now ends here. Tennessee sits at 12-9, 4-4 in the SEC, with the easy part of the schedule over. You can now say the quiet part loud: it should be better than this. Can Rick Barnes control any of the following?

  • Lamonte Turner career-ending injury
  • Euro Plastics NCAA tomfoolery
  • Zach Kent’s sudden departure

No, not really. Any one of those things happening is hard for a coach; three of them happening in the same two-month span is admittedly a brutal hand dealt. None of those three items should be blamed on Rick Barnes or his staff. However:

  • The inability to land a grad transfer stopgap
  • Waiting to find a point guard until Santiago Vescovi popped up in Uruguay
  • Jordan Bowden’s baffling downturn
  • Confusing lineups
  • Poor shot selection

Can, and should, be blamed on Rick Barnes and his staff. If Missouri can land Dru Smith from Evansville, who’s not a star but would be Tennessee’s second-best player, Tennessee should have been able to do something similar. I think we all love the potential Vescovi brings, but Barnes was probably right that he could’ve used a few months of additional seasoning before hitting the court. (He has the worst Offensive Rating of any player still on the team.) Jordan Bowden…honestly, who knows. But the number of insane two-big lineups (this destroys offensive spacing) and the number of awful mid-range twos (Tennessee is second-best in the SEC at making them, but they take far too few at-the-rim twos) is something a coaching staff should’ve been able to fix. And they didn’t.

It is what it is. The main option here, and the one I’m choosing, is to trust Rick Barnes can still learn a few lessons even as a coaching veteran. It certainly helps that next year’s team will be far superior to this one.

NEXT PAGE: I mean it is pretty crazy that Alabama’s only made two NCAA Tournaments since 2006. But I didn’t feel like doing 500 words on it

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