Rick Barnes Expecting a “Rock Fight” in the SEC Tournament

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    Betting Futures: SEC Tournament Champion

    The SEC Basketball Tournament will tip-off tonight in Tampa with the bottom four teams playing in the first round. With six SEC teams currently slated for a spot in the NCAA tournament and two more on the bubble, Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes is more than aware of how big of a challenge winning the SEC tournament will be.

    “In the conference tournament, obviously, we know each other,” Barnes said on Wednesday. “So this is a real, I mean, it’s a real rock fight. We all know each other so well. But you rely on your training, you rely on what you have done up to this point, but if you’re not locked in from a mental standpoint, and you start doing things out of character and you start beating yourself, that’s where it all ends.”

    For Tennessee to take home the conference tournament title, the Vols will need to win their Friday game at 6:00 p.m. ET, followed by their Saturday game at 3:00 p.m. ET. Then, if Tennessee is still competing by the end of the weekend, the Vols will look for a championship win on Sunday at 1:00 p.m. ET.

    Tennessee Basketball: Advanced Model Projects Tennessee to Win SEC Tournament

    Tennessee has gotten to this point in the season off of strong guard play and an overwhelming defensive prowess. But Barnes, a veteran in this business, knows well that even a small slip can send the Vols unexpectedly packing from either of the upcoming tournaments. Luckily for the team, though, the Vols have a very recent tape to look at to prepare for the weekend both mentally and physically.

    “I think the key is not to beat yourself by some of the things we did on Saturday afternoon,” Barnes said about the upcoming SEC Tournament. “Not being locked in mentally, turning the ball over, not rebounding the basketball. It’ll get back to fundamentals. But on the mental side of it, you’ve got to be locked in. You’ve got to understand that the game changes a little bit.”

    As good as Tennessee’s guards are, though, it’s no surprise to anyone considering they have been the heartbeat of the Tennessee team all year. Instead, it’s going to be two of Tennessee’s other freshmen, Brandon Huntley-Hatfield and Jonas Aidoo, that are going to need to step up after each having a big month in February.

    “We need those guys,” Barnes said about Huntley-Hatfield and Aidoo on Wednesday. “We need both of them. We need them to give us some offense, too. But I thought they were huge in the game against Arkansas when we were teetering there. They went in and we told both of them that we need you guys to play defense and rebound. And they did for a period there in a high-level game. So they should be ready in terms of understanding what being in a high-level game when it matters and when it’s on the line. They really helped us during that stretch. We just need consistency. And I would say the same thing about each player on our team, we’ve got to ask each one of those guys to get better.”

    Rick Barnes knows that Tennessee is in for a rock fight this weekend, which is exactly what it will be if the Vols want to be victorious come Sunday evening. Tennessee’s first game in the SEC Tournament will be on Friday evening against the winner of South Carolina and Mississippi State on Thursday.

    Ric Butler is a Knoxville based sports media personality who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since 2017. Most recently, he served as the lead writer for the website of a local radio station. Ric also helped create and host a daily radio show called “The Blitz." Ric’s passion for sports, smooth vocal, and infectious personality have made him popular with both his peers and Vol Nation. Originally from Dallas, Ric didn’t grow up riding horses to school. But he did dream of the big city lights. When not chasing down the latest Tennessee story, Ric can be found watching the WWE, often attempting their moves in an embarrassing fashion.