Rick Barnes has helped transform Tennessee’s men’s basketball team from a basement dweller in the SEC to one of the best teams in the conference. And his coaching efforts are being recognized nationally.
It was announced on Friday that Barnes is a semifinalist for the Werner Ladder Naismith Coach of the Year Award. Barnes was named as one of the 10 semifinalists, and the list will be narrowed down to four finalists on March 15th.
The other finalists include Texas Tech’s Chris Beard, Virginia’s Tony Bennett, Clemson’s Brad Brownell, Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin, Ohio State’s Chris Holtmann, Xavier’s Chris Mack, Purdue’s Matt Painter, Auburn’s Bruce Pearl, and Villanova’s Jay Wright. Wright was the winner of the award in 2016 and in 2006, and Bennett won the award in 2007 as head coach of Washington State.
“In such a wildly competitive season, these 10 coaches have proven their mettle and have positioned their teams for a magical March run,” said Eric Oberman, executive director of the Atlanta Tipoff Club via a press release. “Our voters will be challenged to select four from this group, since they are all very deserving.”
Barnes has taken a Tennessee squad predicted to finish second-to-last in the SEC to a 20-7 overall record and 10-5 mark in SEC play. The Vols are currently in second place in the conference and trail only Auburn in the standings. Tennessee has been ranked inside the top 25 of the AP Poll for 12 consecutive weeks and have been ranked as highly as No. 15 in the poll. They currently sit at No. 19 this week.
The Vols went 15-19 in Barnes’ first year as head coach and went 16-16 last season. Tennessee won just a total of 14 SEC games in 36 contests in Barnes’ first two seasons.
This year, however, the Vols already have 10 SEC wins with three more conference match-ups remaining. And Tennessee’s 20 wins in the regular season mark the first time since the 2013-14 season that the Vols have totaled 20 or more wins in a season.
The Naismith Coach of the Year award has been given out since 1987 and has been won by some of the game’s greatest coaches. The first coach to win the award was Bobby Knight, and other winners include Mike Krzyzewski, Dean Smith, Roy Williams, Bill Self, and John Calipari.