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Vols Looking for Biggest Win in Rick Barnes Era

Photo credit: Anne Newman/RTI

The Vols have taken down Kentucky twice under Rick Barnes. They pulled off the massive upset last season when the unraked Vols took down No. 4 Kentucky 82-80 in Thompson-Boling Arena. Tennessee also defeated No. 20 Kentucky 84-77 at home in 2016.

But both those Volunteer squads failed to capitalize on those victories. Last year’s win over Kentucky was huge for morale, but it mattered little in the long run as the Vols finished .500 on the year and missed out on postseason play.

This season, however, appears to be different. And Sunday’s match-up with No. 7 North Carolina is arguably the biggest game of Rick Barnes’ tenure at Tennessee.

The Vols are currently ranked No. 20 in the AP Poll, and that’s the highest ranking Tennessee has earned in the poll since 2010. Coincidentally, the Vols are off to their best start in a season since 2010 as well. Tennessee is currently 7-1, and the last time they were 7-1 was at the start of the 2010 season.

Tennessee appears poised this season to make it back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014. And a win over the Tarheels would be huge for what is already an impressive tournament resume.

And it would be another “first” since 2010.

The Vols haven’t beaten a top 10 non-conference opponent since they took down No. 3 Pittsburgh 83-76 on December 11th, 2010. Every top 10 victory they’ve had from that point till now has been against SEC foes (Florida 2012, Florida 2013, Kentucky 2017).

In fact, counting the two ranked teams the Vols have faced this season, Tennessee is just 4-10 against ranked opponents under Rick Barnes. The Vols have defeated a ranked Purdue squad and lost to a top 5 Villanova team this season already.

The last time Tennessee and North Carolina played, the Tar Heels were No. 7 in the country just like this year. That meeting was on December 11th of last year, and the Vols jumped out to a huge lead early.

But Tennessee couldn’t hold on, and the Tar Heels came away with a 73-71 victory on their home court.

North Carolina has defeated Tennessee nine out of the ten times they’ve played them and own a four-game winning streak over the Vols. The last time Tennessee beat North Carolina was in 1949 when they won 84-56.

The two teams have only played four times in the “modern era,” and North Carolina has won all four times. They won 74-69 in 2000, 94-81 in 2004, 101-87 in 2006, and 73-71 last year. The only other time these two teams have both been ranked in the AP Poll when playing each other was in 2006. The Vols were No. 22 and the Tarheels were No. 2 in the country.

For national perception, the Vols need a victory over North Carolina on Sunday. They don’t necessarily need it to make the NCAA Tournament, but it would give them that “signature win” they could point to. And a win over the Tarheels would prove that this team is no fake contender either.

This game isn’t “make or break” for Rick Barnes. But it’s still arguably his biggest game as the Vols’ head basketball coach. And a win would go a long way in giving fans reason to believe in him and this team.

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One Response

  1. I’m blown away by some of the suggestions, but I’m sure the author has a much better grasp of what his readers need in order to believe in their coach and team. My approach happens to be a bit different, however. I’m loving the positive press and the success the team is having. Candidly, this is the first article that I’ve read (so far) that outlined how poorly Barnes first two teams have done against ranked teams outside of the SEC.

    The last (3) sentences of this article trouble me a bit, sir. You see, I’ve neither read nor heard anyone of consequence suggest Coach Barnes needed fans to buy into him or our team. Actually, when I read several outlets suggesting we would finish 13th in the SEC I literally laughed aloud. It was clear they were jumping on board an opinion formed by the SEC Network and had done zero research. It was a handful of former players and truly genuine journalists that quickly disagreed with those at the SEC Network- and other “local,” web based companies that ran with the SEC Network assessment.

    The staff recruited extremely well despite the collapse of late last season. It was clear what happened and CRB brought the solutions in via recruiting and it has shown this season. The one game that slipped away was to Villinova, which is a top tier, high powered offense and understandable. What they have already accomplished is a consensus where some true experts, rather than self proclaimed ones, have suggested our Vols could be as high as a #2 or #3 seed in the NCAA tourney not just make it in on the bubble. This represents a tremendous advancement forward with a program that lost a coach to NCAA sanctions, the next coach was ran out of town by so called fans as we were a bad call away from the Elite 8, the next coach was also fired for NCAA violations, but thankfully the sins were committed at his previous university. In just 2 seasons CRB has done an extraordinary job of bringing character, dignity, and accomplishment back to our beloved University basketball team.

    Why is it so hard to write about this sort of thing? I’m truly and sincerely curious why there must be this love affair with marginalizing accomplishment that isn’t a championship. These remarkable young men have a chance to break records this season, but this article’s last paragraph would lead the “casual fan” to believe they must beat North Carolina in order to give “fans” a reason to believe in them. This isn’t true at all, sir. What you should have written is that your requirement to believe in the team goes hand-in-hand with the win. This is why I sincerely believe the casual fan is so remarkably and improperly informed, and have some absurd opinions. It’s sports writers skepticism and cynical opinions used in our name as this example highlights.

    In fairness, this article is miles away from the example I would use to illustrate some of the ignorance being pedaled for clicks by a term I struggle to use for them, which is writer. However, I sincerely believe if you take an honest inventory of this article, Mr. Rutherford, then you will come to the same conclusion as I did. That conclusion is you substituted your opinion for your readers, which changed your article from being a journalistic endeavor to report the news into an opinion editorial. I don’t believe you wanted to mislead your readers, but candidly part of the problem we have as a country is a result of journalism that doesn’t report the news, rather, it creates it.

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