Some late nights, when you’re already soundly asleep, the CHIEF is awake into the wee hours of the morning watching hours of college basketball and corresponding with beat writers across the country to bring you the best scouting reports and game predictions on the Memphis Tigers’ opponents. Consequently, the CHIEF’s FILM ROOM series is born, only at The BarnBurner.
No. 3 Tennessee @ Memphis | ESPN2 | 11am CST| KenPom No. 10
This Saturday morning, your Memphis Tigers play host to Head Coach Rick Barnes’ University of Tennessee Volunteers. The BarnBurner’s very own FARMER BARN and ZIGGY put their heads together and give their respective thoughts on this match-up.
The Skinny on the Vols:
What have Vols fans thought of former [other] UT coach Rick Barnes and the job so far that he’s done so far in Rocky Top?
FB: I think Vols fans almost unanimously see Barnes and the job he’s done as nothing short of fantastic. With all the coaching turnover the Hill’s gone through in the last decade, a stabilizing force like Rick Barnes is a welcome change. The question for most Tennessee fans was how much Barnes had left in the tank when he was shown the door from Texas. In year four and with a preseason and current top 5 team, I think the answer to that question is plenty. He really encapsulates everything a fanbase could want in a coach: a proven winner who is hard on his guys but really respected and loved by players, and someone you know isn’t going to get your school in trouble with the NCAA. Tennessee is extremely lucky to have him.
Ziggy: I’d give him a hard “A” and I can’t imagine many Vols fans (other than the hardcore closet Pearl sympathizers) not doing the same. I worried when he was hired that he was here to just get a paycheck and win enough games to keep his job since he’d already proven so much at Texas. Obviously, it’s been the opposite. Recruiting is getting better each year, but the most impressive thing to me is player development. Every single player on this team is playing at a much higher level than I think scouts would have predicted in high school which just goes to how well Barnes does at developing what he’s got, much like Beilein at Michigan.
Where do you think UT ranks in the uber competitive SEC?
FB: There’s no question this might be the best the league’s been in a long time. This past weekend proved with Tennessee’s win over the #1 Zags, Alabama’s win over Arizona, Mississippi State handled a quality Clemson team, and even not-so-great South Carolina hung tough with an elite Michigan team. Top to bottom, you are looking at a league that could very well have 6 or 7 teams make the tournament in March. With that said, I think this current UT squad ranks any where from 1 to 3. Those other two teams would be Auburn and Kentucky. Although Kentucky isn’t playing great basketball right now, you have to think Calipari’s guys figure it out as the season goes along. They’re just too talented. Bruce Pearl’s squad down on the Plains is darn good. They played a loaded Duke team tough in Maui. I would say it’s likely one of UT, Auburn, or Kentucky is at the top of the conference standings come late April. Objectively speaking, I think it’s hard to not put Tennessee right now as the prohibitive favorites in the SEC. They’ve played two of the nation’s best teams to a split before conference play even opens. That should bode well moving forward.
Ziggy: It’s hard to not put them first. The SEC was arguably the deepest conference in the nation last year but this year it looks to be a two-horse race between UT and Auburn with Kentucky and MSU sitting at fringe top-25. There is a lot of season left but many of last year’s tournament teams already have questionable losses. Tennessee’s resume is better than Auburn’s right now so I’ll give them the nod.
Have the fans in Knoxville embraced the basketball team even with football experiencing the recent doldrum down years?
FB: Tennessee will always be a football school first, every other sport second. However, that can change with one special season that ends in a Final Four run or the hanging of a banner. I do know that most Vols fans were a little bit more ready than usual for basketball this season when the football team struggled for the second year in a row.
Ziggy: I started making “we’re a basketball school, anyways” jokes a few years ago and now it may have actually happened. 90% of Vols fans would still take an SEC football title over a basketball one, but I think fans are willing to take what they can get right now.
Who’s the best Vol player we may know about?
FB: This one is probably closer than people think. While people may think the answer is easily Grant Williams, him and senior forward Admiral Schofield are 1a and 1b. Schofield is the heart and soul of the team; he’s also the guy that just scored 25 points in the second half to key an upset of the Zags. But Williams is such a rock and steadying presence. He flirted with a triple double in the win over the Zags, and is the reigning SEC Player of the Year. I’ll go GW.
Ziggy: Grant Williams and don’t you dare listen to anyone who says Admiral Schofield. Recency bias be damned.
Who’s the unsung hero of the squad?
FB: Entering his junior year this season, point guard Jordan Bone has started a whole bunch of games over the course of his career. Rick Barnes has really coached him up hard and always evaluated him with a bit more criticism than others, but I think some of that is attributable to the fact that Barnes knows how good he can be and how important he is to this team’s success. Bone has steadily improved each year. This year, his turnover to assist ratio has really started to change for the better. Tennessee’s probably at their best when he’s attacking and distributing, but this season he’s still had sterling games with a bunch of assists even when his shot wasn’t falling. That’s a great sign.
Ziggy: With Barnes’ relatively short rotation, there aren’t many guys who are hidden away. As far as non-starters go (not counting Bowden), I’ve gotta say Lamonte Turner. The Vols have been good enough to win despite his injury troubles, but when he plays he provides something big that no one else on the bench can.
Which newcomers will have the biggest impact?
FB: Yves Pons — or the Flyin’ Frenchman as I like to call him. The sophomore has NBA-worthy athleticism. When he moved to the US last year and started school at UT, he did not know much English and his game was largely unrefined. In a span of 18 months or so, he’s steadily improved from purely a high-flying dunker to a good defender and capable shooter. Barnes recently inserted Pons in the lineup, which shows you how much trust the second-year guard is starting to garner from the head man. As we wrote about in our season preview, Barnes thought he had arguably the best offseason of any returning player. I think the more opportunities he gets to play the better he will become.
Ziggy: See above.
How would the Vols continue their momentum and get the W here in Memphis?
FB: Do what they do best — pound the ball inside. Vols have to be careful and not have an emotional or mental letdown against Memphis after a huge win against Gonzaga. I don’t really love the fact that the Vols have five or so days to hear the national media rehash how big the Zags win was. I also have no doubt Penny will have the Tigers ready to play. UT’s formula for success is obvious: get the ball inside to Williams, Schofield and senior center Kyle Alexander. I don’t think Memphis will have much of an answer for those guys, especially Williams and Schofield. If UT plays inside-out on offense, I think they should be okay.
Ziggy: Tennessee is able to play three bigs at all times if Barnes wants due to Schofield and Williams’ passing ability and versatility. The Vols should dominate the paint and the glass in this one as they have in most games this season. It’s tough to lose a game with control down low unless the other team shoots the lights out.
Conversely, how best would Memphis protect its home court?
FB: Let freshman point guard Tyler Harris loose. Shooting well from outside, this game could really represent his coming-out party on a more national stage. If I’m Penny Hardaway, I’m telling my guys to get up and down the floor and try to get Tennessee into a track meet. With a veteran-laden team, the Vols are methodical and play Rick Barnes brand of basketball: physical, make it hard for the other team to score, and pound the ball inside. A game where Memphis repeatedly gets out on the break could sucker Tennessee into trying to do things it’s not accustomed to doing. Regardless of what happens on Saturday, I’m glad to see this rivalry get revved back up. It’s huge for the state and college basketball in general.
Ziggy: Shoot the lights out. I don’t know that there’s a tactical advantage anywhere for Penny so he really just needs his guys to play their best game of the year and hope Tennessee has a slump. But it’s home court and anything can happen.
Gun to your head: Rick Barnes or Bruce Pearl?
FB: Barnes. Pearl will always have an endearing legacy at UT, even with his unceremonious exit. He was painstakingly close to getting UT to its first ever Final Four in 2010. With all that said, Barnes is much more of an X’s and O’s tactician. Whereas Bruce’s teams get up and down the floor in almost a YMCA pick-up style of basketball, I think Barnes brand of basketball is more conducive to March success. The deeper a team goes into the tournament, the more important coaching (like half-court sets and out of timeout in-bounds plays) become. For a basketball purist like me, Barnes is my choice.
Ziggy: I wasn’t here for the Pearl era so I’m not as qualified to answer this one, but I think I’m going Barnes. Pearl undeniably brought more excitement and attention to the program with his own antics, but Barnes can get that same national attention by simply winning. So far he does that part very well.
So Sunday, I watched Admiral Schofield light himself on fire and cause his Vols to topple #1 Gonzaga on a neutral court – an absolutely gutsy effort by the boys in orange. It prompted me to wonder via text into the Twitter void:
• Hope Barnes gives Grant Williams a DNP
• Make Jordan Bone beat you from deep
• Make approximately a kajilllion 3s
• Draw approximately a trillion charges
• Uhhh… really really hope Grant Williams just doesn’t feel like playing?¿
— CHIEF (@TheBarnChief) December 9, 2018
Side note, and slightly unrelated, any of y’all know my homie with the Memphis hoodie in Phoenix? I was both shocked and filled with joy to see some Memphis love during the ESPN broadcast:
— CHIEF (@TheBarnChief) December 9, 2018
Updated Team Stats:
No surprise, TYLER HARRIS is averaging 16.2 Pts, 1.7 Reb, 1.9 Ast shooting a red-hot 40% from deep.
— American MBB (@American_MBB) December 10, 2018
Ways to Win:
- Get supernova hot from deep. The most 3s the Tigers have hit in a game this season is 11 (twice, against Charleston [a loss] and against UAB [a win]). I think the magic number here is 15 EFFICIENT three-point makes.
- Feed Boogie in the post and get Grant Williams in early foul trouble. Grant Williams has fouled out of two contests this year (once in Kansas and once against Gonzaga).
- Hope Admiral Schofield has cooled off. This one speaks for itself.
- Make UT G Jordan Bone beat me with jump shots. Bone is the floor general type of PG that is shooting 39% from the field (and 21% from 3). I want to keep the ball on the perimeter with a tight zone and make him beat me from deep.
Next Man Up:
The Little Rock Trojans come to FedEx Forum on Wednesday, 12/19, for a 7pm tip.