Back in late February, Tennessee head basketball coach Rick Barnes was named a semifinalist for the Naismith Coach of the Year award. Fast forward to mid-March and the day that the Vols play their first NCAA Tournament game of the 2018 tournament, and he’s now been named a finalist.
Barnes joins Virginia’s Tony Bennett, Ohio State’s Chris Holtmann and Villanova’s Jay Wright as the four finalists for the Naismith Coach of the Year award.
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.
But this year has seen a complete reversal of fortunes for Barnes and the Vols.
Tennessee enters tournament play with a 25-8 overall record, a share of the regular season SEC title, and were the runners-up in the SEC Tournament. The Vols earned their first ever No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament thanks to their solid play during the season, and they’re back in the Big Dance for the first time since 2014.
Barnes has led the Vols to their fourth-most wins in school history, the second-biggest win improvement from one season to the next in program history, and was named the SEC Coach of the Year at the end of the regular season.
The winner of the Naismith Coach of the Year award will be announced on April 1st.
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.