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Tennessee Working on Details for Season Opener with UNC Asheville

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UNC Asheville won four games all of last season.

Rick Barnes doesn’t care about that, though. On the eve of his fifth season-opener as Tennessee’s head basketball coach, he would tell you that the Bulldogs return DeVon Baker, a 6-foot-2 guard who was a Big South All-Freshman selection last season. In addition to Baker, the Bulldogs add Lavar Batts Jr., an NC State transfer that was once ranked the No. 1 player in the state of North Carolina by multiple recruiting services.

Barnes would also point out that this is a completely different Bulldogs team. Last season, Mike Morrell had the youngest team in the country in his first year as the head coach at UNC Asheville. In his first year, 76 percent of the Bulldogs’ minutes were played by freshmen.

“They’re a different team than a year ago,” Barnes said during his media availability on Monday. “Coach Morell has done a good job of going in and getting his guys in place from a year ago.

“I think they’ll play different than they did a year ago. We certainly expect that. He’s been around the game a long time, and he knows how he wants to play, and he’s been able to get more guys like he wants to help him put in his style that will be up-tempo and look to press and trap and those type things. A year ago, they were predominately a zone team, so I’m sure they still have some of that in their repertoire. We have to be prepared for a number of different things.”

In addition to preparing for a different team than they’ve seen on tape, Barnes has his team focused on the details of playing basketball.

Tuesday night will serve as Tennessee’s 2019-20 season opener, but the Vols already have a game under their belt. Tennessee defeated Eastern New Mexico 107-59 in its lone exhibition contest last week. Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden combined for 45 points, but they also combined for 10 turnovers. Details like that are what Barnes is stressing to his team in practice.

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“There’s no question we’ve got to rebound the ball better,” Barnes explained. “We have to do a much, much better job with free throw block outs. Little detail things that most people might not pay attention to.

“Delivering the ball, better passes, taking care of the ball better. There are more than two or three. There are a number of details that we have to get better with. Defensively, we have to do a better job guarding the basketball, and I still think we have to do a better job helping each other to do that.”

It’s those aspects of basketball that Barnes wants to see his team carry over to this season. Unfortunately for the Vols, they’ll have to do it without a key piece of their team.

Arizona State transfer Uroš Plavšić was denied immediate eligibility by the NCAA on Saturday. As a result, the seven-foot big man will have to sit out this season due to transfer rules. In the process, he will lose a year of eligibility because he already redshirted last season at Arizona State.

“We’re all disappointed and somewhat surprised, to be quite frank,” Barnes said of the decision. “Uros has done nothing wrong.

“He’s done everything that he was told to do, being a foreign student coming into a foreign country, going about things. He only knew what he knew by who he listened to. That’s all he knew. So that’s the tough part for him. I promise you, in his mind … and he hasn’t, he hasn’t done anything wrong.”

Tennessee has appealed the decision by the NCAA a second time after the initial appeal was denied. There’s three processes a school may go through, and that even includes skipping a process and coming back to it if need be. That’s what the Vols are doing in this case.

In the meantime, UT will press on without their big man. It isn’t an ideal situation, but it’s the situation the Vols find themselves in. Tennessee will have to work with what they have.

“It’s up to us as coaches to put guys in positions that they can be successful,” Barnes said. “We’re not afraid to size down and play with what would probably look like a guard lineup. We’ll do whatever we have to do and whatever the situation calls for.”

Barnes and his coaching staff will put that plan to the test in game No. 1 on Tuesday when the Vols and UNC Asheville square off for the 11th time ever. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:01 p.m. ET in Thompson-Boling Arena.

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