Photo By Ian Cox/Tennessee Athletics
Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes met with the Media Monday afternoon after the Vols jumped to No. 2 in the AP Poll following a 2-0 week where they earned a pair of lopsided victories.
The Vols are winners of four straight following a disappointing loss against Kentucky and head on the road Wednesday to face Florida in Gainesville.
Barnes discussed Todd Golden’s first Florida team, what Tennessee needs to do to have a strong February and much more. Here’s everything Barnes said Monday.
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On playing well offensively against Texas despite making just six threes
“It’s the fact that we do want to be able score on nights when we’re not shooting the three well. But some of that is their game plan was obvious, that they were going to do what a lot of teams do to us, try to take away the perimeter and force us to go inside with it. Over the last couple weeks, we’ve spent a lot of time on that inside game, to see different guys do it. Certainly the other night, to see Olivier play the way he played is really encouraging. But also I think our guards did a great job of getting those guys involved. They were trying to mix their defenses, probably more so because they had a little foul trouble. And the way our perimeter guys were looking to get the ball inside against the zone and different defenses. But it’s encouraging anytime we can get great balance. This team, I think we’ve got guys that can score at different levels and we’ve just got to get consistent.”
On what he liked after watching tape of the win over Texas
“One, it was a really hard fought game both ways. Both teams weren’t giving up a lot on the defensive end, certainly. I thought in the second half, it was my fault, I thought Santi (Vescovi) probably more than anyone got a little fatigued. Then Marcus Carr didn’t play much in the first half, then he came back and was certainly fresh in the second half. We uncharacteristically gave up some back cuts that we don’t normally give up. We don’t normally give up as many. They had a couple. You have to give them credit, they were cutting and moving. But we got, on some of the switches, things we played against all year. We weren’t as clean as we needed to be, defensively. Got to get better there. And certainly, again, we have to get better. That’s just communication. And we can fix that. Our guys, I’m sure, will work at doing it. But overall, the effort getting to the glass, trying to block out, really trying to play together, is what really jumped out. I didn’t think anybody tried to force anything. We’ve talked bout being connected, not just on the defensive end but offensively. We can get better there. We’ve got to get better. Overall, it was a really hard fought basketball game.”
On when he started to see Zakai Zeigler become this kind of point guard
“It’s something we talked to him about from last year on, really starting to understand what a point guard does. He’s such a team player. I’m not sure there’s a guard in the country that has impacted the game as much as he has, especially in the month of January. I mean, he has been terrific, every area that you could ask him to be. Zakai is very unselfish. He’s a tough, hard-nosed competitor that just wants to win. But he has really embraced the fact that he does want to play the game different than he had through the years. In terms of he can shoot the ball, he can score the ball, but really trying to make his teammates better. I would say it’s not just been this month, it’s been something he’s really worked on from the time that we started with this team, knowing that he needed to do that. Once it starts to click for him, and I think it is, I think he’s seeing the court in a whole different way than he has. I think his vision, seeing it, and I think it has slowed down for him. Seeing all nine guys on the floor, seeing what’s going on.”
On how this team has played over the last few weeks
“I don’t know if it’s so much an edge. I do think the hardest month of the year is probably January. Because you go through your whole fall season, Christmas break comes, things are different. Things are different on campus. Their schedules change, I think their bodies change. The fact that they go from one routine to the next, then school starts back. And really and truly, January is a tough month in college basketball for everybody. Just the fact that you’ve played a lot, you’ve practiced a lot, now you get into February, which we know is an important month for everybody. A lot of basketball left to play for everybody. But I do think our guys, I do expect, we’ve got busy that have played a lot of minutes here. They know what it’s about. I do know that they know that we’ve got to continue to get better. We talk about that all the time, about what do we have to do to continue to raise the ceiling at the standard we want to play with, the standard that we want to be held to. It has to come from within. I think we’ve got a group of guys that have embraced it and will continue to embrace it.”
On what will define success for this team in February
“Defense. I’ll always start on the defensive end, where you’ve got to be really good. You’ve got to be good in ball-screen coverage. You’ve got to be able to win those individual battles. Rebounding. Then the fact that now you’re looking for consistency. I think role definition probably becomes more important. It’s always important, but it becomes a little clearer. But with that said, knowing there is a lot of basketball left to play, that can still change a bit too. Then on the offensive end, where we just really know we’ve got to be consistent. Got to get certain guys in certain areas of the court where they can be effective. That’s on me, obviously. But I would say to you, one thing for certain, we’ve got to get better at transition defense. That is an absolute must. We’ve got to get better there. And ours guys are going to have to understand when games are going on, when the cross switches, matches start happening, it’s understanding you can’t buddy run. You’re going to have to get turned around quicker and pick up the ball. We gave up just a couple wide-open shots in the game Saturday and we can’t do that as we continue to go through February.”
On what stands out about Florida
“Certainly, new coach that’s done a good job with his roster. A post player in Castleton that is as effective as any guy in the country. They do a great job of playing through him and 40% of the game they’re going to play with guards and shoot a high percentage of three-point shots there. Going back to what I just said, transition defense. They’re going to look to get it up quick and to get that early kick out, bust out and look to shoot the three in transition so that’s going to be really really important obviously. But switching, they’ll mainly man but they’ll play some zone. They have some zone presses that they’ll run but they’re going to probably switch it one through four which we’ve seen a lot this year from a lot of different teams and they’re going to play hard, they’re going to compete. Extremely well coached. It’s hard to win, man. I don’t care where you are, what level you’re at, it’s hard to win basketball games and we know that it’s going to be hard to go to Gainesville, Florida and get a win. It’s hard but we have to be locked in and go one day at a time and get better today, tomorrow and go play.”
On where B.J. Edwards is at in his development
“I think he’s getting better. I think, obviously, with playing with an older group of guys that he’s had to come in and deal with. We still think he’s a big part of this program and certainly a big part of our future. He’s got a great attitude. Guys love him. He’s not afraid to compete. It’s just, as you know, we’re in a situation where it’s hard to go beyond where we are right now in the rotation with the numbers. What we love about him is that he’s truly trying to get better everyday.”
On how preparation changes from facing a guard heavy team like Texas to a team with a star forward like Florida
“It doesn’t change— we’ve seen that some this year too already. He (Colin Castleton) is certainly a force and can do a lot of different things. Our post players will have to be on edge because he can do some things and he can really take a game over. He plays well with those guards and our guards are going to have to be able to, there might be a lineup where we play four guards and we think we can do that if we have to so we’ll see how the game— I’ve said many times each game takes on its own personality. We’ll see what personality this one takes on.”
On being frustrated with Zakai’s play early in this season and how those games helped him
“I don’t know, early in the season I don’t know if I’d use the word frustrated. I think you’d probably use the word expectations probably more than frustrated because a guy that plays as hard as Zakai plays and he’s always played hard and competitive, I don’t know if you could ever get frustrated with that. What we wanted to see him do earlier is exactly what he’s doing now. He’s embraced being more than a guy that can shoot the ball. A guy that can put pressure on the defense. It’s what, he’s always impacted the game defensively and he has never not impacted winning. He and Santi impacted winning, impact games whether they score or not. What they do on the defensive end and then you put Zakai, what he’s doing now, how he’s playing more minutes than maybe he should be right now. It’s a great testament to him that he’s willing to embrace what we’re asking him to do, which means changing what he has to do. Also think it helps him a lot having a guy like Santi out there and I think even getting Jo(siah) back, guys that are experienced and have been around but like I said, he and Santi, they can score the ball but they’re both very unselfish and the fact is they don’t have to score. We need them to but they don’t have to. They’re going to still fight and do what they need to do to impact winning. I’m not sure there’s a better tandem right now in college basketball in terms of what those guys are doing and certainly what Z’s done as a point guard and taking care of the ball, getting assists. I’m not sure any point guard in the country has had a better impact on the game than he has.”