AFC Champions Odds Preview: Do The Titans Hold Value?
Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes met with the media on Monday morning just before the team took the court for practice. The Vols will host South Carolina (10-4) on Tuesday night in Knoxville as they look to rebound from their loss to LSU in Baton Rouge. Even with a Top 25 ranking of No. 22, the Vols are in a little bit of a slump right now after dropping two of their last three.
During his press conference, Barnes hit several topics surrounding the Tennessee team. With a conference game on the horizon, Barnes spoke about South Carolina and what they bring to the table as Tennessee looks to even out its conference record. The twenty-second ranked Vols boast a win over Ole Miss but have losses to No. 19 Alabama and No. 21 LSU.
In addition to the opponent, Barnes spoke about a few players individually, like Kennedy Chandler and John Fulkerson. As both players have been battling new years slumps, Barnes talked about what they can do to improve and further help the team.
See Also from RTI: WATCH: Tennessee Basketball Practice Highlights – Jan. 10
Barnes also hit on several other players including from Josiah-Jordan James, Brandon Huntley-Hatfield, and Olivier Nkamhoua.
After the press conference from Barnes and point guard Kennedy Chandler, the Vols held practice inside Thompson-Boling Arena before their SEC matchup with South Carolina on Tuesday night.
Tennessee Head Coach Rick Barnes
On Josiah-Jordan James’ 3-point shooting…
“What we want him to do is to take the shots he takes in practice. That is what we want. He does shoot it at a very high percentage. He really does. But I think what happens when you are struggling, and not just Josiah it could be any player anywhere. When you come out and like he hit his first shot the other night, it was a perfect shot in the rhythm of what we wanted. When you struggle like he has, it is just natural to think, ‘okay I want to see if I can make another one.’ He normally takes wide open shots but the second one he shot was in transition and he was not set. He was anxious, there was no doubt he was. We talked about it with him and we try to tell him. There is a fine line where you go and I said this the other day after the game. We were very tight in the Mississippi game. We went somewhere maybe over the other way where have to find that balance still. That is where players individually have to find a balance. The one thing we know is that we don’t think he is hunting shots to do that. I really don’t. We want those shots to come into flow. When you get the penetration that we can get sometimes with our guards, those opportunities are going to be there. We have had a lot of uncontested shots that we did not make. Some of those uncontested shots we were not set the way we should have been set. That has something to do with it. It still goes back to practicing the shot that we practice at game speed, game shots. But I get it when players are competitive they are struggling to score. One of the hardest things to do as a player is think, ‘I have to score, I have to make shots.’ That is really difficult. I think that when you get to that point the most important thing is to let it go and start thinking about what can I do to help my teammates? And my teammates need to help me. I think that it is a mindset that you have to get to. I can tell you we have full confidence in our team and those guys. We are 10-4 and have lost four games to top-25 teams, two of them on the road in the league. It is hard to win a league game but you want to win them all. We need Josiah to impact the game in ways. We want him to take his shots but when we are playing really good basketball he is really doing a lot of the little things to impact the game. That is what we need from him consistently, really from all the guys that are not making shots. We are going to make shots, I believe that, I really do. But even if not we will continue to get better defensively and it may be ugly but have a chance to win.”
On what he hasn’t seen from Brandon Huntley-Hatfield since after the Alabama game…
“Consistency. We have told Brandon and his teammates have told him that we need him to really come and be a force. We need him to want to impact the game when he comes in and not just try and stay in the game by not making mistakes. We do not care if he makes mistakes if he does it going at the speed and playing at the speed we want. Throwing his body around like Saturday. I thought the best play of the game Saturday was when the player from LSU went in and dunked the ball and Olivier (Nkamhoua) went up and challenged it. And then the very next play, Olivier went back and blocked the shot. That to me is what it is about. We need that. That is the kind of play we need from Brandon, Uros (Plavsic), John (Fulkerson), and any of our front-line guys. Yves Pons would get dunked on just to decide he would make something happen. That is what we need from Brandon. We need that kind of energy. That is what we need more than anything else. We have talked to him about it and he is young. I do think he is trying and this is all new to him. He will tell you that after each game, ‘Man, that game is faster than you think’. When you are sitting there and sitting up close. I still think that Brandon is going to be fine, but we need him to come in and throw himself around and bring energy. We need all of the guys off the bench to come in and do what Jahmai Mashack does. That is what we need, guys that bring that kind of energy. If we can get that it will take us to another level.”
On encouragement from the progress seen out of Olivier Nkamhoua…
“Really am. I told you guys after the Ole Miss game, I saw him in a way that I have never seen him before. I saw it again Saturday at LSU. Where you hope now that he has gotten lost in it. I think one he would tell you it has been a hard ride for him. He is finally getting a chance to play in big moments and big minutes. That is what is encouraging to me, when I looked out there the other day when we closed the game. You had two freshmen, we had a freshman guard who has never been in it who is learning as he goes. Olivier is in a new role that he is starting to really embrace and find it. And Uros (Plavsic) and those guys played their hearts out the other day. Santi, no one goes at it any harder than him. But we just need everybody. Jahmai did it the other day. He came into the game with the energy he brought, we need that. We need it from everybody.”
On South Carolina…
“It’s exactly what’d you’d expect. They’ll play fast in transition, they’re going to be physical, they’re going to rebound. It’s exactly what’d you’d expect from watching and coaching against Frank Martin for all these years. You know it’s going to be a battle.”
On what he believes his Tennessee team does well other than defense…
“I think guys are getting better. We’ve got to get consistent, there is no doubt about that. I do think that the shooting woes can play into guys’ heads. They can’t evaluate themselves on that. I am convinced—and I’ve always believed this—if you get lost in the game, you get lost with your teammates (good things will happen). When you work really hard for years on years, you think, ‘Hey, this is going to be a great year because I’ve gotten better.’ Then all at once, it’s just not going well.
“No one has done a better job for us than Victor Bailey Jr. If you ask anyone on our team who they want to see succeed, it’d be VJ Bailey, because that guy works. He has struggled making shots, but he’s gotten better. We had a couple terrific block outs Saturday—the way we want to do it, and he had two of them. If you ask the guys on the team, they pick one guy on the team they really want to see do well they’d say VJ Bailey. The way he goes about his business… I don’t think he’s worried about minutes. I think he’s a guy, when he’s not playing, he’s pulling as hard as he can for his teammates to do well. He wants to go in the game, and he wants to help us win. That’s the honest truth from him. The players respect him for that, because they know how hard he works.
“We have a standard that guys set here a couple of years ago. We can’t let up on that standard. You think about our team… the only guy who’s been here that was part of (establishing) that standard was John Fulkerson. You think about how well he played against Arizona. (Then), over the break he got sick, so we went to Alabama without him and Kennedy Chandler. Then, we come back, and he has a really, really tough time against Ole Miss, and we were shocked. We hadn’t seen any of that in practice. And so after that game, I was talking with (associate head coach) Michael Schwartz, and said I want you to talk to John (Fulkerson), maybe it will help him if we bring him off the bench. I don’t know if he has lingering effects here from (having) COVID, because we hadn’t seen it in practice. John (Fulkerson) said to Mike (Schwartz), ‘I think I’m fine.’ Then, he didn’t play well Saturday where he didn’t have the energy. He wants to do well. He’s been here… he wants to see this happen, but my comment after the game about him was that look, if he is sick, he does need to let us know that so that we can help him get back where he needs to be. We need John (Fulkerson) playing at the level that we saw against Arizona. He’s been a huge part of so much of what we’ve done here. We talked about it yesterday again as a team. We have to know what guys are feeling, especially this time of year where we are, with the COVID and everything. If you’re not feeling well—you don’t have the energy—we’ve got to know that. We can adjust, we can make some changes to maybe help a little bit here and there. There’s a standard that we have that we expect everybody to play up to. Are we going to struggle? Everybody struggles. You guys cover us, you know us better than anybody else, We will struggle at times. We can still win games when we struggle. A lot of the things that we wanted to see Saturday, some of it we got, some of it we didn’t.
“LSU is a good basketball team. Texas Tech is a good basketball team. Alabama is a good basketball team. Villanova is a good basketball team. The fact is, we’re not going to drop our standard at all. I don’t care if we’re shooting the ball well. We’re going to continue to find a way to try and win basketball games. I truly believe this group of guys… one, they like each other, they care about each other, they want to do well. I think if it were up to them, they’d play everybody 40 minutes a night, but we can’t do that, so we need consistency out of everybody. We haven’t gotten to the point yet where we know who we can really rely on. That affects us on the offensive end more than the defensive end. It’s pretty simple defensively. We know what teams are going to do, and we know how we’re supposed to guard it. Offensively, it’s more instinctive, making decisions on the fly. You can’t coach it the same way you coach defense. I do think we’ve got better offensive players than some of the numbers show. I can tell you I know that because if you were going strictly by the numbers, you wouldn’t see our guys being guarded as tightly as they are. So, (opposing) coaches know they’re capable of making those shots. Think about it… this team has made 17 3-pointers in a game. It’s a mindset that we’ve got to get these guys to understand. Most of them are going through (this) for the first time We’re going to work through it. We still have a lot of basketball left. Every goal that we have in front of us is still there. We can get it. I think the key to the whole thing is today. Don’t be thinking weeks down the road, don’t be thinking about what’s up at the end of the year. Just think about, “Today, can we get better today?’ Then, tomorrow, go out and play as hard as we can and the best we can be against South Carolina.”
On if he had a conversation with John Fulkerson after the LSU game…
“I will never say a thing to anybody else that I haven’t already said to my team ever. If anybody thinks I’m going to use the media to get a message to my players, then they are nuts if they think that’s going to happen. I would never do that. I’m going to be as honest and as transparent as I can be, because I do know that people love our basketball team. They want to know what’s going on with it. I don’t know how anybody else took it, but (Fulkerson) knew exactly where I was coming from. He had a tough time a year ago with COVID when he went through it. John knows that we need him. We all appreciate what he’s done, but I also know that if you’re not feeling well and you want to fight through it, it can also have a reverse effect on you where you’re like, ‘Man, I’m trying to do this, but I can’t.’ John has never been one to make excuses either. He’s not a guy that does that. If anybody thinks that I would go somewhere and tell somebody else that first, you’re way off.”
See Also from RTI: Barnes Pulls No Punches After LSU Loss
On if the team thinks too much…
“I think there’s outside pressures, I do. I’m not denying that. There’s a lot of people in peoples’ ears at times talking to them, and I think that’s part of it as we go through it and coach it. You have to keep a pulse on the team. I think this team really wants to be good. I think players want to play. We can sit here and say, ‘We’re going to play the hot hand.’ The other night, we were searching to find someone to go into the game and affect the game in a good way. Think about it, Jahmai Mashack did that against Ole Miss. We said, ‘Hey man, you have to go in and change the rhythm of this game with your rebounding.’ He did that. The other night, he went in and did what he did. He’s making some things happen. I know they all want to do well individually. I know they all have their individual goals. This is a good group of guys. I can sit here and talk about the lack of experience in some ways, but I’m not going to do that because we think that we should be undefeated. I wouldn’t want that any other way. Is it realistic thinking like that? I would say probably not. When a game is over with, and you lose it, you go back and scrub it out and think hypothetically, ‘If we would have done this, this, or this…’ The other team has other problems they deal with too. Our team is not going to let anything on the outside affect them. If they do, that’s stuff we’ll address. I think when you’re struggling to shoot the ball you can be uptight. The question is, how do you get out of it? The answer to that is you quit worrying about anything except what you can control. Just know if you get lost in the game, that will take care of itself.”
On if Kennedy Chandler is getting more comfortable…
“I think he’s learning that the way he played in high school is different from this. This is a different game. I’ve told him that. I’ve said, ‘You know what, your high school game is not going to work here. Your college game is not going to work at the next level.’ It’s all about continuing to learn every single day and understanding where you’re really effective and understanding what you need to do”. I thought he had some spurts that him, myself, and Zakai (Zeigler) went back over the offensive side again last night. We talked about what the good things were. They talked to me about what they were thinking right here and right there. They’re learning. You think about it, you’ve got two freshman guards. Playing that position is hard. You go back and think about how Zakai played at Alabama when he was thrust out there, he did a terrific job. It was his first time with him on the road, and Kennedy did a great job. We can get so much better. That’s what makes it exciting for me and them. I think they realize it too.”