Tennessee basketball is looking to play at a quicker pace this season and it showed up when Vols ran Gonzaga out of the gym with their up-tempo play in an exhibition win.
But when Rick Barnes watched the tape from Tennessee’s season opening win over Tennessee Tech, the eighth-year head coach saw his team rushing on offense.
“I thought we were rushed,” Barnes said. “We were just rushed on the offensive end for whatever reason but it was good for us because I keep talking to the guys about what are we going to do on those days where we’re not making threes?”
Barnes admitted that it is hard to turn down the open perimeter shots Tennessee Tech was giving the Vols. Tennessee made just four-of-21 first half threes before making 10-of-23 in the second half.
So, how does Tennessee balance playing up tempo but not playing rushed on the offensive end as it prepares to face Colorado in Nashville Sunday?
“When we talk about playing fast and quick it’s really with your eyes,” Barnes said. “It’s really with seeing what you need to see early and advancing the ball. We spent a lot of time working on it the other day and we’ll continue to do that where we can really understand the difference in fast and being in a hurry and quick as opposed to being in a hurry but it gets back to being able to know what you’re looking for at the different things we might be doing.
“We know that we need to play with pace but that’s not all the time full throttle.”
Finding the right balance puts extra pressure on Tennessee’s point guards. Zakai Zeigler struggled shooting — especially in the first half — against Tennessee Tech and Barnes pointed out his different role as a reason for early season adjustments.
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It’s an even bigger adjustment for second point guard Tyreke Key. The Indiana State transfer spent his four years in Terre Haute playing off the ball and will play there more than at point guard this season.
Still, Tennessee is putting that additional responsibility on his plate and Key admitted that he has “to push the pace a little bit more” following the win over Tennessee Tech.
“He knows that. I think that’s the first step and I’m not sure he’s ever thought of himself as being a point guard, a facilitator because as we know he’s a terrific scorer and has learned to play really well without the ball,” Barnes said. “I think he’s starting to understand it more. I think he’s one of the players that’s starting to understand the pace. … He’s got to see what he might have early and what he might not. If not he has to settle us into a flow. That’s where he’s getting better.”
Tennessee is looking to learn from its season opening lessons in its first true test of the season Sunday. The Vols face Colorado at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville for the third game in a three-game series against the Buffs.
Colorado is 58th in KenPom entering its Friday night matchup against Grambling State. The Buffs are a middle of the road Pac 12 opponent who Tennessee should handle but won’t be able to sleep walk to a victory.
The good news for Tennessee is that Tad Boyle and the Buffs are following its lead playing with more pace.
“They’re playing faster,” Barnes said.
Tip-off between the Vols and Buffs at Bridgestone Arena is at 2 p.m. ET. Kevin Fitzgerald and Jimmy Dykes are on the call for ESPN.