Tennessee head basketball coach Rick Barnes has won over 700 games in his coaching career. Barnes has also won 24 NCAA Tournament games and has made one Final Four appearance. There is one box left unchecked: winning a National Championship.
While a championship ring has alluded Barnes throughout the course of his career, CBS Sports National Basketball writer Matt Norlander believes Barnes is one of 10 veteran coaches next in line to win the NCAA Tournament for the first time in their careers. In fact, Norlander ranked Barnes fifth out of the 10 veteran coaches most likely to do so.
“Barnes’ only Final Four came at Texas in 2003, when he lost to Syracuse and Carmelo Anthony (opening the door for Jim Boeheim to win his first and only title),” Norlander wrote. “You likely noticed the Volunteers are building a strong presence in the SEC under Barnes. Thanks to good coaching and improved recruiting, Tennessee has a healthy shot to operate as a top-25 program indefinitely under the coach with almost 36 years to his name as a head man.
“A new wave of studs is coming. Tennessee has the No. 4 recruiting class for 2020, its best class in history. UT was a No. 2 seed and No. 3 seed the past two NCAA tourneys. He’s taken Providence, Clemson, Texas and Tennessee to the NCAAs. Barnes’ 707 dubs are No. 2 on this list to Huggins. A key for Barnes has been hiring the right staff, and though he’s had to make changes due to assistants getting Division-I head jobs, Tennessee is still managing to grapple for No. 2 in the league behind Kentucky.”
Barnes was named the 2019 Naismith College Coach of the Year after guiding Tennessee to a school-record-tying 31 wins and a Sweet Sixteen appearance in the 2018-19 season. In the midst of their run in 2018-19, the Vols tallied a program-record 19-game win streak, picked up three wins over top-five opponents, and spent four weeks ranked as the No. 1 team in the country according to the Associated Press.
Over the past three seasons, Barnes has led Tennessee to a 74-29 record following a stretch in which the program had three coaches in three years.
Tennessee was picked to finish second-to-last in the SEC prior to the 2017-18 campaign. Instead of finishing 13th as projected, the Vols split the 2018 regular season SEC crown with Auburn. They also reached the title game of the SEC Tournament and were then a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament with a record of 26-9.
Barnes was named the 2018 SEC Coach of the Year and was runner-up for Naismith National Coach of the Year following his breakout season on Rocky Top.
The 2020-21 campaign will be his sixth at Tennessee and his 34th as a head coach.
Led by five-star guards Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson to pair with four-star forward Corey Walker, Tennessee finished with the No. 4 overall recruiting class in the 2020 cycle according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. Barnes’ highest-ranked recruiting class at Tennessee will pair with All-SEC forward John Fulkerson, Sacred Heart grad transfer E.J. Anosike, sophomore point guard Santiago Vescovi, and sophomore guard Josiah-Jordan James in 2020-21 to try and help bring Barnes his first National Championship.
Forward Yves Pons is also expected to be a key piece for the Vols. The reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year entered his name into the NBA Draft, but he’s expected to return for his senior season on Rocky Top.