Tennessee’s men’s basketball team has caught many in the national media by surprise. The Vols were picked to finish 13th out of 14 SEC teams during SEC Media Days prior to the start of the 2017-18 season. And so far, that’s looking grossly inaccurate as the Vols are off to a 13-5 start and sit inside the top five of the conference with a 4-3 record.
And it’s because of that hot start that the Vols’ head coach, Rick Barnes, is getting recognition.
According to Myron Medcalf of ESPN, Barnes is on the shortlist of coaches who should be in contention for the AP College Basketball Coach of the Year award. Tennessee hasn’t had a winning season in basketball since the 2013-14 season, but they have one of the best NCAA Tournament resumes this season and look like a vastly superior product to the last three Vol teams that have been on the court.
Here’s what Medcalf has to say about Barnes’ performance as head coach this season:
“In 2015, Texas fired Barnes and hired Shaka Smart. Insiders knew, however, Barnes would find a good job in the near future if he wanted one. Now in his third season at Tennessee, Barnes is reminding all that he’s the same guy who led the Longhorns to the Final Four in 2003, as well as three Elite Eight appearances, and won Big 12 coach of the year four times. Last year, his Tennessee squad finished 3-7 after Jan. 31. Then he lost two of his top three scorers in the offseason. But his team’s résumé in 2017-18 already includes wins over Purdue and Kentucky. The Vols are smarter and more efficient (38.3 percent from beyond the arc) this year. And if this continues, they’ll earn their first trip to the NCAA tournament since Cuonzo Martin led the program to the Sweet 16 in 2014”
Medcalf has Barnes listed as No. 5 on his list, trailing Purdue’s Matt Painter, Auburn’s Bruce Pearl, Virginia’s Tony Bennett, and Ohio State’s Chris Holtmann.
Barnes himself has never won the AP Coach of the Year award, but he’s won other coach of the year trophies. As Medcalf states, Barnes is a four-time Big 12 Coach of the Year recipient, and he’s also won the Colonial Athletic Association Coach of the Year Award in 1988 and the John Wooden Legends of Coaching Award in 2009.
No men’s coach at Tennessee has ever won the AP Coach of the Year award, but Pat Summitt won it on the women’s side in 1998. The award has been around since 1967 for men’s basketball and was added to women’s basketball in 1995.
The Vols take on Vanderbilt (7-12, 2-5) in Knoxville tonight at 7 PM Eastern as they look to build off their road victory against South Carolina on Saturday.