Rick Barnes didn't hide his contempt for his team's defensive progress heading into Tennessee's closed-door scrimmage with Davidson, saying the Vols would get "exposed" defensively against a fast-paced Wildcats squad. Those concerns weren't alleviated Friday in an exhibition game against Alabama-Huntsville, a team that put up 83 points and shot 43.8 percent against the Vols in a 13-point loss.
"It still is our biggest concern," Barnes said at a Monday press conference. "We spent a lot of time (Sunday) working on that end of the court."
The first-year Tennessee head coach wants his team to focus on communicating more effectively in transition defense, a continuing problem. Barnes also wants his players to put themselves in better position in transition to disrupt shots, something they weren't always able to do against the Chargers last Friday.
"Watching the tape, and what I shared with the players, was we've got to stay on the edge," he said. "We're not on the edge enough. We're not down and ready to anticpate the drive. Like some teams will just catch it. The teams that we've scrimmaged and played against will catch it on the run and come back at full speed. You've got to be on the edge so you can handle that. Overall, that was probably the biggest message that we talked about (Sunday)."
Fatigue in the up-tempo approach Barnes likes to utilize could have played a factor in Tennessee not being in position against UAH, and Barnes is hoping to combat that by taking a sweeping look at the program to see how he can keep from exhausting his team —including the temperature of the locker room.
"There's a lot of things we're looking at, because we haven't had a problem with cramping all year," Barnes said. "We're going back to look at a lot of things ... The locker room back there was really hot. That was the first time we'd been in there all year. I mean it was really hot, because I was sweating and I didn't do anything to start sweating. I know that was a problem ... We're looking at a lot of things, from the way (we do) pregame shootaround to the pregame meal, everything."
Barnes is also constantly looking at tweaking the starting lineup, which he did in practice Sunday. The first-year Tennessee coach replaced center Derek Reese with freshman Kyle Alexander and guard Detrick Mostella with Robert Hubbs on the first team.
"It's going to be competitive in terms of what it's going to be every day Sunday. The group we had out there (Sunday), and it was really based on the scrimmage and what we saw, was KP (Kevin Punter) and Armani (Moore), Devon Baulk(mon), (Robert) Hubbs and Kyle, because of what we saw on tape," he said. "I think it will be competitive all year. Like I've said before, the starting lineup could change all year. I'm still not concerned with that. I'm more concerned with how we're going to finish the game."
New Old Traditions
Being new to Tennessee, Barnes wanted to get a feel for the tradition of the program before he embarks on writing his opening chapter in the basketball program's history. To help with that, the first-year Vols head coach recently went to lunch with former Vols radio broadcaster and 'Voice of the Vols' John Ward, who introduced Barnes to Tennessee's rich basketball history.
"It was awesome," Barnes said of his time with Ward. "I could have sat there with him for days on days hearing him talk about tradition. I really wanted to have a great feel for what had happened way back ... It was great having lunch with him and hearing him just giving me a history lesson."
Barnes plans to bring back the wooden Power T to the pregame entrances, a tradition first introduced by former basketball coach Ray Mears that was used by every head coach until Bruce Pearl took over in 2005.
"We're going to bring back another one and the guys are going to come out to run through the T," Barnes said. "I do want to embrace some of the traditions that are a part of the past. I think there's a space for all of it and to create our own."
Kasongo's Status Still Uncertain
Despite playing in the scrimmage against Davidson and Tennessee's exhibition game with Alabama-Huntsville, freshman big man Ray Kasongo has still not been cleared to participate in regular season competition by the NCAA. Without going into detail, Barnes said the verdict is still up in the air.
"We don't know anything else with Ray. We're still dealing with that," Barnes said. "What he's going through is something that went on before he got here. Our compliance department staff, they're doing a great job just trying to get it resolved. It will be up to, again, the NCAA to work through it."
Another area of concern for Barnes was the play of his wings Friday. He didn't mince words in his disdain for the swingmen's inability to run the floor against a quick UAH team.
"We need more from our wings," Barnes said. "They did not do a very good job of running the court the way we wanted to and they got stagnate."
That stagnancy was caused, in part, by not following the scouting report Barnes prepared before the game.
"I will tell you, one of the things we talked about was they didn't listen to our scouting report," he said. "We told them exactly what Huntsville would do and they did exactly to the T. We knew they would be back in a real soft-packed, line-type defense and it would look like a zone, but it's not a zone, and we said we'd run our man offense and in the first four minutes of the game we didn't do that."
Instead, point guard Kevin Punter tried to facillitate opportunites through a zone attack in the opening stages of the game, which Barnes urged against and has spent time adjusting after watching the film.
"That's part of what we talked about (Sunday)," Barnes said. "We're going to help them and we're going to give them the best cheat sheet that we can give them, but they've got to listen. We didn't do a very good job of that."