Rick Barnes is changing almost everything at Tennessee but what he expects to accomplish with the program.
The first-year Vols head coach refuses to waver in his expecations for this new team, ones that include finding a way to get to the NCAA Tournament when the calendar flips to March. But on the floor, the Vols will look much different than they did a season ago under former coach Donnie Tyndall.
Barnes continues to implement his transition offense that will utilize a quick tempo and precise shot selection to ideally score within seconds of pushing the ball up the floor. To make up for a lack of size in the post, Barnes hopes his big men will be able to get down the court quickly for easy lay-ups to prevent them from banging around inside with bigger players.
He hopes his guards will have the confidence to take open looks as soon and gives them the freedom to flow with the tempo and spacing he's trying to install.
“It’s a lot different from the offense we ran,” senior guard Derek Reese said. “He wants to score in seven seconds. He doesn’t really want to run an offense and set anything up. He wants to score off our break. That can be our offense if we perfect that.”
On defense, the Vols are switching from Tyndall’s vaunted zone back to man in hopes of becoming aggressive to make up for lack of size in the post.
"We still have to understand the importance of rebounding the ball every possession and doing our work early and knowing that we're going to have to gang rebound as a team,” Barnes said. “We're not going to be allowed to rely on one person to go get all the rebounds. We have to do everything as a group.”
It’s in the veteran coach’s nature to be admittedly tedious. He often stops practice to dissect the tiniest details, because — in his mind — the small mistakes can snowball into larger problems that eventually determine the difference between wins and losses.
“We are teaching everything thaey are totally invested and are great teachers. We have spent a lot of time teaching, but we have to teach everything. The job is the same job.”t we have to do,” Barnes said. “I'm very fortunate that I have a great teaching staff. Rob Lanier, Desmond Oliver, Chris Ogden, they know how we want to play. Th
Barnes is also utilizing the leadership of Kevin Punter and Armani Moore, the two players called upon to be the keys to Tennessee’s movement on offense and growth inside the locker room. Both players will be asked to handle the ball, with Punter acting as the main point guard and Moore creating opportunities running the point and playing off the ball.
"Kevin Punter was the first guy that truly bought in from the time that we got here,” Barnes said. “We are going to use [Moore] everywhere. He came as a point guard. He does see the floor and pass the ball well. We will still use him, I don't like to say the word undersized, but really another four-guard. He is a guy we are hoping to create mismatches for."
Yet despite all of the change in personnel, style and coaching, Tennessee’s end-of-season goals remain the same.
“We expect to be in the tournament at the end of the year,” junior guard Robert Hubbs said. “That’s our goal. If we do everything and listen to him, I think we will. If we play the game the way it should be played, we should be right there.”