Sad to say I have failed miserably at reading Rick Barnes’ mind. My bad.
I have no idea what the coach was thinking as Tennessee endured seven turnovers, Alabama reeled off 14 consecutive points and completely changed the tournament semifinal game. There is a reason Mr. Naismith or somebody invented timeouts.
I don’t know why Barnes waited until the final minute to make the brilliant defensive move that almost won the game. The Tide was manipulating Vol switches and taking full advantage. Dispatching Davonte Gaines as a matchup for SEC player of the year Herb Jones was a super swap.
Ticket stopped Jones near the goal. Ticket blocked a second-effort shot. Ticket won the scrap for the loose ball. Ticket was fouled.
Alas, with just a few seconds remaining, he missed two free throws that could have won the game. Well, maybe. The risk remained that quick Tide guard Jahvon Quinerly would go all the way to the hoop.
Gaines has not been a free-throw artist. He missed eight of his previous 18 in rare appearances. He hadn’t been in such a pressure cooker since high school, back in Buffalo.
No doubt Barnes has had an all-season plan to reduce turnovers. I can’t guess what it was. The almost-great guards keep doing the same thing, game after game, dribbling into double-teams and going airborne to throw passes.
Keon Johnson misleads the team with 69 turnovers. Jaden Springer has 60. Santiago Vescovi played the most minutes but lost only 51. That is not good but it isn’t awful. The sophomore had two against the Tide. The freshmen had five each.
I’m only a little confused by Barnes’ reaction to the Florida violence and John Fulkerson’s concussion and facial fracture. The coach and player turned the other cheek. They explained Omar Payne’s cheap shots as a heat-of-battle mistake.
There have been hundreds of heated battles this season without anything like Payne’s flagrant left forearm smash and right elbow hit to Fulky’s head.
If that attack had been the other way around, Fulkerson double-decking Payne, it would have been a hate crime.
I’m not sure what Barnes was thinking when he poured post-game praise all over the Vols.
“I’m proud of our guys, I really am.”
“Again, I’m just really proud of our guys.”
“I can’t tell you enough how proud I am of these guys.”
“I’m proud of these guys because we had to make do with some lineups because of Fulky being out.”
“I can’t give these guys enough credit for hanging in there.”
The Vols did give extra effort. They competed. That’s part of loving the great game of basketball. There have been only a few Tennessee outings that were short on effort and focus. Trying to win is what you do.
It seems to me this squad is loaded with good guys. They are unselfish, sometimes to a fault. Much as Ernie Grunfeld and Bernard King did a generation ago, they can play with just one ball. They’ll give it up if somebody is two inches closer to the goal.
If any of these Vols grumble about assignments or lack of playing time, it doesn’t show. E.J. Anosike is an example. He transferred in for his senior season with high expectations as a rebounder. He didn’t get enough rebounds and missed too many layups. His minutes have dwindled down to zero in some games.
What have we heard from E.J. Anosike? He said he loves it here, he’ll be back for an extra season.
I might be reading Rick Barnes’ mind correctly regarding Uros Plavsic, seven feet tall and 246 pounds strong. The really big man from Ivanjica, Serbia, has always looked good getting off the team bus but has played very little. He is a leading enthusiast, quick to congratulate a good play or pick up a fallen friend.
Uros helped fill the Fulkerson void in the tournament. He played 17 minutes against Alabama. He exceeded expectations. The coach explained.
“He’s shown us in the two weeks off that he’s really, honestly, finally bought into exactly what we want him to do, which is exciting. It really is.”
Barnes can’t coach people to grow even bigger but he may have coaxed enough improvement to make Plavsic a factor. Barnes desperately needs a center – as soon as Friday in the NCAA tournament. Oregon State has one.
Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is email@example.com