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Everything Rick Barnes said about Vols’ NCAA Tournament draw

Vols head basketball coach Rick Barnes met with the media on Sunday night to discuss Tennessee’s seeding in the NCAA Tournament and its opening round matchup against Oregon State on Friday night.

Barnes discussed his initial thoughts on the seeding, Tennessee’s new COVID protocols with the NCAA Tournament, the latest with John Fulkerson, using a small ball lineup moving forward, Keon Johnson’s play of late and much more. Here’s everything Barnes had to say:

These quotes were transcribed by Tennessee’s Sports Information Department.

On his thoughts on being the fifth seed in the Midwest region and his initial thoughts on Oregon State playing well off a conference tournament championship:

“Well, you’re right. I think our guys are just excited, and obviously we came to Nashville wanting to win a conference championship, but I do like where our guys are. I thought they played their hearts out yesterday and had a good day together today. We stayed here in Nashville, and we’ll get up and head to Indianapolis tomorrow, get checked in there, and get back at it. But you mentioned it, Oregon State finished as strong as any team in the country. They won their conference, beat Oregon, UCLA, and Colorado in that order, which shows how well they are playing. A team that’s been coached well, they’ve gotten better, and playing their best basketball right now. Most teams that are playing right now are capable of playing their best basketball, and I like to think that we’re on the verge of doing that as well.”

On when did he start feeling he knew what he was going to get out of the team, and if he leans on Kim English and Victor Bailey with their knowledge of Oregon State:

“In the last couple weeks, it’s just the attention to detail with our scouting reports, and again sometimes it takes you longer to get to that point where we’ve tried to just get guys to hone in on exactly what you’re trying to do. More importantly, I think it’s just the players talking amongst themselves. The chemistry is good, I just think it has gone to a different level. I think they are really locked in to each other, and with Kim and VJ, they certainly know, even though Oregon State has pretty much a different team. Like every team that pops up, they start working on those opponents for the first weekend, and our guys are doing the same thing. Later tonight, they’ll give me some film or whatever they can come up with, for me to look at. Obviously, you can get it pretty quick now, but the way I understand it, they are a different team in terms of personnel. I know Stevie Thompson’s son, I coached against Steve when I was at Providence and was playing Syracuse, so their personnel is different than what VJ and Kim saw a year ago.”

On the small ball lineup and using that moving forward:

“Everyone is excited for Uros. For a guy that hasn’t seen the court as much as a player would like, there hasn’t been a player warned by the officials as much as him for being overzealous for his teammates. I can’t tell you how many times the officials came over and told me to keep him off the court. The guys love him, because he’s the ultimate team guy. Does he want to play? Absolutely. I can’t explain to you what makes the light go off for guys, but over the last couple of weeks he’s done it and earned it. He did some good things yesterday, but we’re going to need everyone on our team. Without John yesterday and with Josiah in foul trouble, it forces you to do some different things and do things on the fly like you wouldn’t normally do. Both games this past weekend were high level games. We’ll prepare for a number of different things. What I heard that we were talking out there is that Oregon State will mix defenses and show some different things. But, we’ve seen just about everything people can throw at us. Obviously, adjustments will be made, but moving forward we’re going to have everyone ready and hope that Uros can keep doing what he’s done up to this point.”

On the bubble aspect of this season and how the next few days will look and feel:

“That’s a great question and the answer is that I don’t know. In the past we’ve had to get there a few days early. Had press conferences and I would assume that will be the same like we are right now. But, the difference is that in the past we’ve been able to set up our own off-site practices, but I don’t think that will be that way. As of right now, I don’t think anyone in this tournament knows what this tournament is going to be like. We just found out what hotel we’re going to be in, which isn’t unusual. In the past with this, right now, all of the administrative people are getting the flight arrangements. You know what hotel you’re staying at—the tickets and stuff are tried to get knocked out before getting on the plane to go. I think you had to be at the site two days before, but this year we’re getting their four days before we’re actually going to play. I have no idea where we’re going to get assigned to go practice. I don’t think anyone knows. I’m going to be curious, I guess they’ll be giving us some more of that info as they get through that. When they were doing the show I remember one of the announcers saying the pairings, but they didn’t say where they were going to be playing. I would assume that if they’re going to send us somewhere to play games, that’s where we’re going to practice. I think we may be doing a lot of work in a ball room. I did hear that they’ve got all the teams in four hotels and they’re going to try to keep all of the teams on a floor by themselves. How it will all work out, I don’t know.”

On benefits of staying together and building momentum heading into the NCAA Tournament:

“I do think so. I think that when we walked out of the arena last night, my first initial thought for me personally, I hadn’t really thought a lot about it because you’re thinking about the tournament and all this. But I remember walking out yesterday thinking and asking somebody, ‘What time is it?’ and I really had forgotten we played in that earlier game. They asked me my thoughts (about the NCAA Tournament) and I could tell by the way they asked me about my thoughts, they had already in their mind had their opinion of it, and I said, ‘Well, you know, I don’t want to sit around a hotel for a week, whatever’ and then they explained to me that going back probably wouldn’t be the right thing to do right now with what’s going on with the NCAA and all that. And actually you know what, we had a really good day today. We had some time over at the Memorial Coliseum and normally, if you think about it, we would have gone back to Knoxville. We would have taken today off.

“We would have been off going back for certain, driving back. But they wanted to go. The guys wanted to go, and it was really fun kind of being there because they started playing three-on-threes, and you know, every guy kind of takes care of their bodies a little bit differently, but coach English got in the game with them. They were going at it, and you could tell there and then here in the hotel. We have a great hotel over here at the Grand Hyatt. They’ve given us I mean as much space as you could put 2,000 people in here. And the guys are spread out, and Mary-Carter (Eggert) went out and bought a bunch of games, and the guys were in there playing poker and Connect 4 and Monopoly and all that. They were playing chess, actually and Santi asked me if I knew how to play chess, and I said, ‘I don’t, but I’d beat you regardless.’

“So, it’s been a good day and I think today has been, honestly, it makes you realize how much you miss the time together as much as anything. But I was concerned yesterday, so everybody had already really made a decision that the best thing to do is stay, and I said, ‘Whatever you guys think because I trust everybody involved here,’ and I do think it was the right thing to do. But we’ll bus up there and I would assume we’re going to leave tomorrow mid-morning. Again, I don’t know. It depends on what we get back from the NCAA about the practices this, that or whatever. But I’m guessing in a couple of hours, we’ll know more.”

On familiarity with Oregon State head coach Wayne Tinkle:

“I’ve been around him. I’ve met him before and I like him a lot. I haven’t been with him a lot. I’ve got great respect for him because I know that again, when you’re a coach and you know, every job is hard. Some harder than others, absolutely, and when he’s done with that program and to do what he did in that tournament, speaks volumes. It speaks volumes and obviously, the job he did at Montana and then what he’s done there. Hats off to him because what he did this week is something that very few teams do. When you run through the field the way he did, it’s impressive. And they have to have great confidence, they’ve got to be feeling good about themselves that again, they’re playing the best at the right time.”

On thoughts about Keon Johnson’s defense in the SEC Tournament can translate to NCAA Tournament matchups:

“I can’t tell you how impressed I am with Keon, especially over the last couple of weeks. I just think that he has just continued to grow. As much as anything, he’s speaking and talking up. And I do think that our guys have great confidence in him. They know he’s a fighter. They know he’s going to compete at the highest level and yeah, does he get it going sometimes and turn the ball over? Yes, but that’s all out of a willingness and a competitiveness to want to fight and win. So, there’s no doubt in how much respect that he has earned from his teammates, and they believe in him tremendously. I believe in him tremendously and all I can tell you is, I wish that he could have had a full year. All of our guys. You think about it, he missed an exhibition game. He missed a scrimmage against Davidson and I think he missed six conference games. And I just in my mind keep thinking, ‘Man, if he had had, or all of us would have had that,’ but that’s for everybody in the country. But yet, he now in the last two weeks has taken it to a higher level, and he’s really locked in. What I love about him too is he’s gotten to a point where he’s asking questions about a lot of different things in the game and he’s not going to back down from anyone and that can be infectious to his teammates which I think it has been. Like I said, as much confidence as we as a staff have in him, his teammates have that same confidence.”

On if having a few extra weeks off helped both physically and mentally:

“I do. I really do. You don’t know coming out of it. At home, our biggest concern was coming out and it being senior night—you always wonder on senior night, because of the respect our team has for John Fulkerson and Yves Pons—we had a good week off. I think our guys enjoyed practicing. We competed a lot and had a number of competitive practices. You can always tell this time of year when you cut practice short, but they want to keep going. That’s always a good sign, but obviously it’s our job to manage all of that. Both Florida games were played at a really high level. I don’t know what it looked like on TV, but I can tell you up close and personal that these two games were as high level of games as you’re going to see in this tournament. I said it yesterday, Florida led the league in a number of offensive categories and then you go and play a team that had the year that Alabama did and we battled. Did we get a little fatigued at one point in time? I thought we did. Could I say that I wish Josiah wouldn’t have gotten in foul trouble? I would, plus if Fulky is in the game you don’t have to put all of the pressure on your guards and we didn’t have that yesterday, but what we did have is group of guys that played with tremendous heart, courage and a willingness to win.”

On if there was one thing they could improve on, what would it be:

“Definitely limiting turnovers and taking care of the ball. In terms of shot selection I think most people think of it in terms of taking bad shots. In our situation its just taking shots. Yesterday, we turned down shots three times and they resulted in turnovers. So, it’s a willingness to take shots from the right guy at the right time is important. Like I said, we’ve gone back and shown it to them. Some of our turnovers have been because we’ve been unselfish and just turned down shots. We have to take open shots when they’re there, because if not, you’re now putting pressure on guys to make plays with the clock running down and that’s when some of those turnovers happen. Both teams yesterday were heavy gap teams that tried to keep things out of the lane. But, I’ll always stick with protecting the ball. Not only is that not turning it over, but it includes shot selection, whether it’s not taking bad shots or not taking a shot at all.”

On his positive attitude following the loss to Alabama:

“It’s a group of guys that I wish I could coach for a long time. You have to realize that we walked through our defensive scheme in a ballroom. We also walked through some offensive things, but the biggest thing is that—what we did in the first half is we changed some things. With the arena the way it was we were able to talk a lot. We were able to do some things we haven’t done and we were able to talk them through it. In the second half on the other end—our team was unbelievable during the game. The guys on the bench were locked in. They knew exactly what we were talking about. We had a few breakdowns when we went to a smaller lineup, but the one thing I loved was our willingness to fight. We play hard, but there was just an attitude and an air about us that made you feel like, ‘This group is getting it.’ The Florida game was a really hard-fought game and defensively being able to stay locked in, in a game between two teams that do great things. For the most part, we guarded, but the biggest thing was the attention to detail to our game plan. That’s what makes you feel good when you know that they’re really trying to do that. They may know they’re not going to be perfect, but I’m really enjoying watching what they’re doing, because they’re on edge in a good way.”

On how they are going to approach this week with uncertain game times:

“It’ll be just like we have during the last part of the season here. We would normally after a game this time of year have a few years off. Today they wanted to get out of the hotel and do that stuff, so tomorrow, we’ll get on the bus and drive up there. We’ll get after it Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. We’ll have a good workout on Tuesday and just make the focus keeping everyone healthy and fresh. Now, I don’t know when or where we play, or any of that. So, we’ll wait and see what that looks like. We normally like to work off two days of prep. Like I’ve told you all before, that when you get a group of guys that go really hard, that maybe two times a week you can expect your guys to exert the energy and effort you need. We practice hard, so it’s up to us as coaches—we’ll get one short and sweet workout in at some point and everything else will be short, sweet and to the point. We’ll just keep working on the things we think we need to, just like we have been down the stretch here.”

On John Fulkerson’s mentality over the last 24-48 hours:

“It’s been great. Obviously, you can only imagine how much he wants to be out there. If he could, he would. I know that he’ll be back tonight and he’ll be on the buses with us tomorrow. I’ve said it before that it’s never about him. It’s never going to be about John Fulkerson. He wants his teammates to win and he wants to be a part of it. No one is pulling for him more than his teammates. They love him and they want to see him have a chance to be successful, because they know how hard he’s worked during his time here and that he’s helped them get to where they are right now.”

On Santi looking more energetic lately:

“I think that week off helped a lot of guys with nagging injuries. We’ve talked about how we’re going to go about this week and a lot of that is just trying to keep as much of that stuff in check as we can. I think the more consistent Keon and Jaden and the guys around him can get—Yves Pons was terrific. I didn’t see the SEC All-Tournament team, but if he didn’t we need to re-vote it. He was just unbelievable with how good he was in so many facets of the game. I do think with Santi the time off helped him. If any of you all have had a hip problem, it can be a problem. Like I said, I think it has helped all of those guys.”

On the moment that the team found out its NCAA Tournament seeding:

“It was very different than in the past. To be honest, when it came up, there were a couple claps and then everybody got up and walked away. I just think it’s different. We’re all in to that right now. They fought hard to be a part of this tournament and they knew they would be a part of it, obviously. We felt like we would probably be seeded somewhere between five and six. I don’t want you to think that they’re not excited, because they really are excited to play, but it’s just different. It’s very different. We’re here in a big ballroom where you could put down two basketball courts. And we’re spread out and everybody’s there. We were all sitting there from the very beginning of the show, but once it popped up there were some claps and then everybody was going out getting ready to eat. That’s being honest with you. But to be where we were a year ago, I’d like to thank the SEC for doing their part, but I’d also like to thank all of the players in this league and around the country, because they were the ones that had to work through what we’re going through right now, it’s not over. And the fact that we have a chance in the national tournament—I just think the players around the country, what they’re gone through, we should really appreciate it, and the people that have worked so hard to get us to this point. But it is different. And it’s going to be different there, but I think that when the games start, I think we’re all going to be used to ‘sort of, kind of.’ But I will tell you this, I felt like this weekend’s SEC Tournament was just an unbelievable atmosphere compared to what we’ve had to deal with all year long. It felt really like and NCAA Tournament first round game, that’s what it felt like. So that made this week really good. We had great support over here in Nashville, which you would expect from Vol Nation. But going to Indy, I don’t think we know.”

On what he feels like Tennessee’s potential is in the NCAA Tournament:

“I think we’re good enough to play anybody and beat anybody in the tournament. I really believe that, that’s the honest truth. Do I want to have everybody? I would, because really and truly other than a few weeks at a time, we’ve had our whole team together and do I want to see our team right now with everybody and a full roster? Absolutely. With that, we’re not afraid to compete against anybody. Even if things don’t work out with John, we’re going to go there with the same mindset because we believe that someway, somehow we have guys that maybe haven’t played as many minutes like what Uros has done, ready to step in there and play. I like the mindset we have right now, but it would be nice for us to have our full allotment and just see what we can be.”

On any team with a positive COVID-19 test being eliminate from the NCAA Tournament:

“It’s probably the hardest thing that we’ve had to deal with all year because we got tested today and we’ll wait for the results tomorrow morning. I don’t think there’s any question that it’s one of the most stressful things that we’ve gone through all year. Knowing that every time you go in, even before the NCAA protocol started, we were down to 10 people getting tested, now everybody in our travel party is getting tested. Everybody. With that said, every time you do that, you’re waiting until the morning until it pops up on your phone. You hope and pray for a negative test. For everybody, you really do. We’ve now had seven straight (days with testing). I don’t think that any of us understand what the testing procedure is going to be like there. We don’t know.”

On Davonte Gaines having confidence after his playing time against Alabama:

“People on this team and in this program love Ticket. They love him. He has such a big heart. And there was no doubt, we knew they were going to run the same play and we saw who they had out there and we said ‘who can go in and guard what they’re doing at the time.’ We knew Ticket would do it. The fact that he made that play against the Player of the Year in the league. He guarded him four times in one possession in terms of the banging and shoving, then he come upon with the rebound. There was no doubt that if there was a rebound in there, he would give us as good of a chance as anyone, and he did. But to answer your question, if you knew how much he’s loved and how much it hurt him, there’s no doubt. If you’re an athlete, you compete. But the fact is, he wasn’t afraid to go in the arena, get dirty and play, and he won’t be afraid the next time. If you know him and you know where he’s from, believe me, he’s not going to (back down). Will it affect him? I don’t think so. I have no reservations whatsoever that if we need him in a situation and we think he’s going to help us win, we will put him in the game.”

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