Rick Barnes has been a winner at every school he has coached. Providence, Clemson, Texas and now Tennessee. The man can flat out coach. In his third season as the Vols' head man, his team shared the SEC regular season title with Auburn, his team is 23-7 heading into this week's SEC Tournament, he was named the SEC Coach of the Year, and his post player Grant Williams was named the SEC Player of the Year as a sophomore. The Volunteers are currently ranked 13th in the latest college basketball polls. All that in his third year at the helm.
I've already stated before that Tennessee was picked 13th of 14 SEC teams in the pre-season polls, yet the Vols are at the top of the SEC heap, which is right where Rick Barnes wanted them to be.
In just three seasons, Barnes has accomplished more than any of his predecessors since Bruce Pearl. SEC Champions is something the Vols haven't been able to say since 2008. With the league's post-season tournament underway this week in St. Louis, the Volunteers will try for their first tournament title since 1979; the first year the SEC brought back a post-season tournament.
The SEC Tournament has not been kind to Tennessee's basketball teams. Since winning the first tournament under Don Devoe in 1979, the Volunteers have yet to win another. In fact, it's been almost laughable as to how poorly the Vols have performed in the tournament in recent years. In 2008 under Coach Pearl, the Vols who were seeded first for the tournament, after being tabbed number one in the country earlier in the season, Tennessee was beaten by Arkansas in the semi-final round. Tennessee advanced to the "Sweet 16" and finished 31-5 on the year. That team set a school record for wins and things haven't been the same since. Barnes first two teams at Tennessee finished 15-19 and 16-16 before setting the SEC woods on fire this season.
Tennessee has done it with tremendous defense, and clutch shooting, especially from behind the three point line. The Vols also have great balance and depth. That became evident when guard Lamonte Turner was named the SEC's "Sixth Man of the Year." While Grant Williams won the Player of the Year, the man playing perhaps the best basketball on the team right now is junior forward Admiral Schofield. The Admiral has been named the league's Player of the Week for two consecutive weeks and was recently named to the All-SEC second team. Schofield is a real specimen. Standing 6'-5" and weighing 240 pounds, he can post up and score or he can drill the three as well as anyone. Admiral leads the team in rebounding as well this season.
So, as Tennessee prepares for the quarter-final round game on Friday night, the Big Orange faithful is cautiously optimistic about their teams' chances of winning the SEC Tournament, and claiming the leagues' automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The betting odds on which team wins it all has Tennessee listed as 5-1 and Auburn is 4-1. That's compared to Kentucky at 9-2 and Vanderbilt at 100-1. If the Vols can continue to play great defense they have a great shot at taking the title. One thing I do know is Coach Rick Barnes will make sure of that.