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What Rick Barnes Said After Tennessee Basketball Climbed Back Into Top 10

Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes met with the local media on Tuesday morning following the Vols win over North Carolina State and before their matchup against Tarleton State.

The Vols enter this week’s matchup against Tarleton State on a four-game winning streak and having moved back into the top 10 of this week’s AP Poll.

Barnes discussed Dalton Knecht’s struggles against North Carolina State, coaching against Tarleton State’s Billy Gillespie in the Big 12 and much more. Here’s everything Barnes said on Tuesday.

More From RTI: Rick Barnes Moving Up College Basketball’s All-Tim Wins List

On how he assesses the defense through the non conference slate

“Well, still, we’ve got areas we’ve got to continue to improve on. We talk a lot about ball screen coverage, and I think that’ll probably be a theme that we talk about all year because so many teams are using ball screens and obviously trying to get our guys to understand and call the cover because we do have multiple packages and what we do, and oftentimes it’s hard to get to certain coverage that we want based on where the screener is coming from. And so those are things that, angles that we’re gonna have to continue to talk about and work with. But I’d say when you’re still in December, there’s not one aspect that you look at for your team that you don’t think you have to improve with. Because I think there’s a lot of room for improvement, but there’s also a lot of improvement for individuals that we’ve got to continue to with our guys that develop themselves the way they want to. But, again, I look at every phase of where we are right now. I think we’ve got to get better.”

On what Josiah-Jordan James is doing so well right now

“It’s been his consistency, has been the best amongst our team. And when you think about it, he had his best offseason that he’s had since he’s been here, and I think it’s certainly showing up right now. And it’s what we really, I think, what he expects from himself and what we expected from him. And we need him to continue to do that and continue to lead and help bring these young guys along with him.”

On what he makes of Dalton Knecht’s struggles against North Carolina State

“They did what we’ve told him all along people are going to do. They’re gonna really try to force his catches out farther. They’re going to play physical with him. They’re going to attack him really on both ends, whether it’s trying to run through screens, run him off screens, get up to touch on ball screens, doing everything they can to get the gaps. And then on the other end, every chance they get to go at them, we’re going to go at it. And so I told him, I’ve told him for weeks, you have no idea what’s coming. And I told him after this, I said, it’s only going to keep coming and it’s great for you that you saw it right now. And he really started seeing a little bit of it in the Illinois game. But the fact is, he’ll handle it. He’s going to work at it. He wants to get better. I mean, that’s one of the reasons he came here. He talked about it from day one, wanting to improve defensively, but he is going to see defenses that he’s never seen before. And he can pass and he actually made a couple nice passes that, where the pass got stripped. But where he got in trouble the other night, he got anxious and started trying to just put his head down and go without really seeing the court. And he normally doesn’t do that. So that was a good experience for him.”

On the adjustments Dalton Knecht needs to make

“Relying on his teammates and understanding just what we have said in the past. People don’t realize how Santi has helped his teammates so much by the way he is being guarded and he knows how to space the court and basically open up a double-gap for people because they are not willing to leave him. We are seeing that with Jordan Gainey. We are starting to see that with Josiah. So now he can impact the game in a different way where the floor is going to be open with them double-teaming him and getting heavy gaps. He just has to be able to find the right receiver.”

On how he’d assess Jordan Gainey’s recent play

“Again, I think it is the same. The other night was the first time all year I thought he was anxious. Maybe it was the fact he was playing against his daddy’s alma mater. I am not sure. But Jordan has really done pretty well when you think of how he has improved a lot defensively. He is only going to continue to get better there as his body continues to fill out. He is not afraid of being physical and trying to run through screens. Offensively, it is probably not predetermined what he is going to do before he gets it and letting the game come to him a little bit more. Both of those guys already have had huge impacts with us and they will continue to help us and their teammates will tell you they need them to do what they do best and continue to try to do it. That’s score the ball.”

On Josiah-Jordan James hitting transition threes

“It changes everything in transition. When they have to start playing that out, it is going to open up either the wings or the post underneath the basket. We need the post guy when it is open there, it is going to open up drives for Zakai like he had the other night. Any time you can get the floor stretched around that key area, it opens up a lot and gives you a chance to really attack the basket.”

On how they can get Tobe Awaka going offensively

“It goes back to I always talk about space on the court and knowing your space and knowing how to get to your space and fight for your space. That is what he has to understand and get the ball and catch the ball where he wants it. If he doesn’t catch it where he wants it, how does he get it where he wants it without turning the ball over knowing that people are going to be digging down on him trying to take it away from him. Learning how to pass it out. Maybe go screen. Maybe go repost, all that. He works so hard at it. This is probably the first time since he has been anywhere that we are trying to encourage him to go score the ball at a higher level than he has ever been asked to do. He will figure it out. What we need most of all is for him to continue to be the force he is on the boards. He runs down and got some great extra possessions for us. Those are like bolts of lightning when somebody can get a rebound like that and throw it back and somebody pops a three or gets an easy layup. We need him to continue to do that as much as anything.”

On playing eight-man rotations against Illinois and North Carolina State

“Those are high level possession games and sometimes it’s not right to, as much as we want those get those young guys minutes, we realize the kind of game we’re in and we realize in those type games early in January, that, you know, our young guys are getting better, but they don’t still understand what it takes at this time to win it the way we want ’em to. But they’re gonna get there because they’re gonna continue to work hard. But the other night it was a bunch of old basketball players out there, college basketball players playing. We’re gonna keep trying to build our bench, get our younger guys ready because we know we’re gonna need ’em. As long as they’ll continue to work, there’s gonna come a point in time where they’re gonna give us quality minutes.”

On how Jonas Aidoo is feeling physically after being sick over the weekend

“He was (struggling). He didn’t practice the day before and he came back and I thought he got better as the game went on. But Jonas is no different to me than most players. If you don’t get the reps day in and day out and get in a rhythm, it’s hard to not practice, to go out and play in a game that was as physical as we knew that was gonna be the other night.”

On the characteristics of a Billy Gillespie coached team

“Very aggressive, you know, going to fight you, going to fight every pass, going to work hard to get through passing lanes. They do a lot out floppy where they can get into a high-low game and do some different things. But hard-nosed. Again, they’re very scrappy, different ball-screen coverages, but we’ll really try to deny them. Now, they will be a, I think, a heavy gap team against us, I think. And they’ll be in a gap, not so much to slow you down, but more there to really try to take the ball away from you. So our perimeter movement’s going to be important.”

On if he has any good Billy Gillespie stories from their Texas and Texas A&M days

“No, just, you know, I’ve got a lot of respect for Billy. You know, he did a great job at A&M. When he went to A&M they really, first time probably, they made a real commitment to basketball and he did a great job there building it. And obviously moving on to Kentucky, from meeting Billy when he was on Bill Self’s staff and through the years, he’s a terrific basketball coach. Every time I think of him is kind of what I said, you know you’re in for a fight. I don’t care where he is, what he does. That’s his personality, that’s who he is, and he has a great way of getting that across to his players.”

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