Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes met with the local media on Wednesday afternoon before his team travels to Madison to face the Wisconsin Badgers.
The ninth-ranked Vols face a veteran and strong Wisconsin team that ranked right outside the top 25 in preseason polls for their first road test of the season.
Barnes discussed his thoughts on the Badgers, how Zakai Zeigler performed in his return to game action and much more. Here’s everything Barnes said on Wednesday.
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On what offensive tweaks they’ve made for Dalton Knecht
“I don’t know if we’ve made a lot of them. We add something every year. We often go back and pull out things that we’ve had that we didn’t use for a year that we know that’ll work. Things that we (situationally) want to get him into. As much as possible, when he gets to daylight, we want him to shoot the ball. We want him to be aggressive, but he’s a player, too, that we keep telling him he needs to get to the free-throw line. He needs to put more pressure on the defense and try to put fouls on key guys on the other team. We’d love to see him rebound it more, which he will because he’s such a hard worker and he wants to be good. All this is new to him, but he’s working to try to certainly fit in with the speed that we want to play with. That’s probably the biggest thing that he’s had to deal with is the pace that we play with compared to what he’s done in the past.”
On what it says about Knecht to be as efficient as he’s been while learning
“He’s got some natural ability, obviously, and I think it says a lot for him that one, he wants to be part of the winning program and winning team. He fits in so well with our guys. We’ve got a group of guys that are very unselfish, but they want to win at the highest level. He wants to make sure that he’s a person that people aren’t trying to take advantage of and put more pressure on his teammates defensively. I think his teammates realize that he can help them by getting them some really great looks at the basket because of the attention he’s going to get from people on the offensive end.”
On Wisconsin returning a lot of talent
“It is hard early in the year when you look at a team that has got 90% of its production coming back. They did well through the recruiting. Great fan base. Great arena to play in. Early in the year — and I was watching them before I came out to be with you guys — they’re probably closer to midseason form. Like us, you’d expect them to be a little bit ahead and they did play with a faster pace the other night and, I think, one of the coaches told me that they said they wanted to play faster and they did do that. A really good team at passing the ball. A team that really runs good actions. They read well. They read defenses really well. If you try to push them one way, they do a great job of back-cutting. I think they make great penetrating passes and if you get spread out too much again, they do a really good job of back-cutting them and doing those type things to get those easy baskets. They got a post guy they’ll play through and they’ve got guys that can drive it. They’re doing a lot of things. Early in the year, they’re gonna throw a lot of stuff at us and that we’re gonna have to be ready for.”
On if Wisconsin played at a faster pace Monday against Arkansas State than typical Greg Gard teams play
“Well, Greg’s a terrific coach and I hink he’s like most coaches that have been around the game a long time. When you get different personnel, you adjust to it. And you realize what guys can do well and you look at your team. And I do think that’s one thing where guys have been around the game a long time, take a guy and figure out a way to get him involved quickly and early. And I think he’s done that.”
On how he thought Zakai Zeigler played against Tennessee Tech
“Great. I mean, it was hard on him because he wants to play so much and our medical staff was telling me when to let him play, when to take him out and all that. And that frustrated him. But the fact that the first time he’s been out there, and you can imagine the emotion that he feels because of who he is and how he goes about everything. But to have four assists and no turnovers, I told him, I said, that’s a great way to start. And making shots, he’s gonna make shots, I’m not concerned about that with him. But you could tell he was frustrated because he wants to play. But we’re gonna still again, do what we need to do to give him a chance to have the best year he can have. And I think his minutes will continue to go up, but we’ll still watch it.”
On Josiah-Jordan James shooting well in Tennessee’s first game
“I thought it was really good early. Again, I thought that Dalton and Santi both turned down some shots early. Josiah was taking some shots, the shots we wanted him to take, and when he gets his feet set, we want him to shoot it. I thought really when Jordan (Gainey) came in the game too, got aggressive, I thought that helped everybody. But early in the game, Josiah was the one guy that I felt was ready to lock and load him when he had a look at it. And when he shoots it like that it makes us obviously more difficult to go.”
On what Jonas Aidoo did to be effective against Tennessee Tech, if he can perform more consistently this season
“Back during the summer, one of our coaches sent me a thing where nine, starting in like 2008 or 2009, they put together based on analytics where, how they got them, I don’t know, but they listed the best defensive players from an efficiency standpoint since 2008 or 2009 or 2010 up until today. And believe it or not, Jahmai Mashack was number four. Zakai Zeiglar was 27 and Jonas was 43. And those other guys, you can obviously see them, they’re out on the court playing. And Jonas’s length and the things he does affects people. He does change a lot around the rim and he has, I think, gotten more mobile where even his ball-screen defense, when he wants to, because he can certainly do it, get out there. He affects a lot. But the fact is it allows us to get more aggressive on the perimeter, knowing that when people drive the ball, that he’s there to and make fix-it plays. And you know, our other post guys, we think will be able to do that too. And we’ve got obviously some, you know, Josiah, Santi, those guys fix a lot of things that break down. But I think people probably underestimate what Jonas does to affect the game around the basket.”
On how Zakai Zeigler felt physically after his first game back
“He was good. I asked him yesterday. Yesterday was our day off and I asked him, he said, ‘I feel great.’ I asked him anything outta the ordinary or any swelling, he said ‘no.’ He said, ‘I feel good.’ It’s the strength that he’s gotta continue to get (to) where he is balanced on both legs all the time, but he’s close, he’s real close to where he feels like and everyone feels like he’s a hundred percent.”
On lineup experimentation in November
“I don’t know. The other night we played and obviously it’s one of those games where you get more guys in the game that will probably play Friday night. But the good thing is I think that they get out there, they get a little feel for it and who knows? I tell ’em all the time, we need ’em all. We’re gonna need ’em all and from game to game and I think whatever game, whatever personality the game takes on, we’ve gotta be ready for it.
“But I really don’t know yet. I think this month will get us heading in that direction, but, it’s a good situation to be in and we obviously wanna win basketball games and that’s our number one agenda and right now, whatever it takes to do that, we’re gonna have to play those guys.”
On if the rule changes with the block/charge calls put more value on a shot-blocking big man like Jonas Aidoo
“Yeah, I think it puts value on all of them. When you talk about rule changes, you gotta adjust to it and we’re trying to get all of our guys — we always want some type of confrontation at the rim, whether it’s with a post player or help side defender coming and I don’t wanna see guys really set up to take charges because I think it’s gonna be tough night in and night (out) for officials because I think the majority of ’em are gonna call blocks nine out 10 times. And which honestly probably nine out 10 times the rules today, it is a block.
“But with a guy like Jonas and Tobe and JP, those guys, Cade and our guards, Josiah, we’ve really tried to teach ’em to go vertical. We don’t want to foul, we don’t wanna bail guys out. The other night, actually, we had a couple really good vertical plays, but guys reached in and fouled as opposed to, I think if they let it go, I think it would’ve been difficult shots for guys to finish.”