No. 6 Tennessee could feature a different rotation when it hosts Missouri on Saturday night.
The Vols are coming off one of the worst games of the Rick Barnes era—a 75-49 blowout loss to a Florida team that was down three starters due to injury. Those injuries didn’t matter. Tennessee lacked effort, poise and leadership throughout Tuesday’s game.
They failed to box out on most possessions, leading to 14 offensive rebounds for the undermanned Gators. Tennessee only led once and it was an inconsequential 2-0 advantage in the game’s opening minute.
Barnes’ teams might not always be the crispest offensive team in college basketball—it certainly wasn’t on Tuesday night—but his teams almost always play with effort. It should come as no surprise that he was not pleased with his players taking a sabbatical from the characteristic that has elevated the Tennessee basketball program over the last few seasons.
“It makes me sick to watch a group of guys not play hard,” Barnes said. “As a coach, it’s probably the hardest thing to stomach, when you know the other team is playing harder in every facet of the game, beating you every which way, and you don’t respond. That’s how I felt tonight anyway. And that’s the most disappointing part in the game.”
The 66-year-old veteran coach desperately tried to find something, anything, to get back in the game. But no matter what substitution he made, Florida would continue to stabilize or stretch the lead.
With five-star freshman guard Jaden Springer sidelined with a bum ankle, the Tennessee offense fell flat. Springer’s highly-touted counterpart, Keon Johnson, made some things happen, but he finished with just eight points on 3 of 9 shooting.
More disappointing to the coaching staff was Johnson’s inability to stay in front of Florida’s guards. The Gators put Tennessee in pick-and-roll situations at the top of the key throughout the game, almost always resulting in a blow-by or dish to a wide-open big man at the rim.
“Keon got lit up tonight defensively because he doesn’t understand ball-screen defense,” Barnes said. “When we really had a chance to get momentum, we were switching and for some reason he just ran out from underneath the basket and left the guy he had switched on, let the big fella dunk the ball.”
Tennessee’s 2018-19 team spent more than a month as the top-ranked team in the country. It wasn’t due to five-star athletes or overwhelming size. The Vols had a level of maturity and leadership that was unmatched by anyone else in the SEC.
They lacked those things on Tuesday and Florida took full advantage.
“There gets to be a point, you have to get leadership from your seniors,” Barnes said. “Fulky and Yves (Pons) can’t hide behind anybody. They can’t…We don’t have the leadership, obviously. And we have to get it.”
Barnes turned to sophomore Davonte Gaines, a player he trusts to bring the effort Tennessee so evidently lacked, down the stretch in Gainesville. Gaines brought it and his coach made it a point to praise him after the game.
It could result in more playing time going forward, because a lack of effort is one thing that Barnes is not going to tolerate. This week’s practices will likely determine how drastic those changes are when Tennessee tips off against Missouri on Saturday night.
“I can tell you this, I don’t know what it’s going to be, but I will change our lineup,” Barnes said. “It will be changed, because I’m not going to let anybody take anything for granted, thinking hey we’re just going to walk out there and play and show up and think we’re good enough.”