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Barnes and the Vols Desperately Need to Reverse Recent Trends

 

Both Rick Barnes and the No. 18 Tennessee Volunteers are caught in a drought.

After back-to-back losses last week, the Vols had to fight off Mississippi State on Tuesday night. Tennessee defended home court with a 56-53 win. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a victory.

What’s even more worrisome for Barnes, is the matchup that awaits on Saturday against the No. 15 Kansas Jayhawks. Bill Self comes to Knoxville to try and make it three victories in the same amount of years against Tennessee.

With a team struggling to regain their efficiency and find answers on offense, Barnes has cause for concern. There may not be a worse scenario for the Vols’ coach, who’s trying to get his team back on track.

Barnes has a putrid career history (6-16) against his old pal from the BIG 12. But it wasn’t always a lopsided affair for the former Texas Longhorns coach.

When Barnes began his stint in Austin, he got off to a blazing start against the younger Self. Since their fifth meeting in 2006, Barnes has won just three times.

Here is a look at their history and if there is any indication that Barnes can help turn the worm.

 

Barnes’ Extended Struggle

After winning 78 games in just three seasons at Illinois, Self left for greener pastures and landed in Lawrence in 2003. His success followed. Self has won no less than 23 games with Kansas in each season.

He led the Jayhawks to 14 consecutive regular-season conference titles, eight of which have been parlayed with conference tournament championships.

In his debut year in the conference, Self was defeated by Barnes twice. The pair would split the next two contests. The Longhorns’ 80-55 romping in 2006 would put the Texas coach up 3-1 in their BIG 12 duels, and 3-2 overall.

Before Self entering the Big 12, the two met for the first time in December 2000, where Self’s Illini squad beat Barnes 72-64.

How the turntables.

Barnes has gone 3-14 against Self since the 25-point blowout in the Erwin Center in February 2006. What made the 5-time conference coach of the year so cold against a bitter rival?

For this trend to change, Tennessee will have to find someone, perhaps multiple pieces, to ignite a breakthrough performance for the team.

 

Tennessee guard Jaden Springer (11) takes a shot while defended by Mississippi State guard Iverson Molinar (1) during a basketball game between the Tennessee Volunteers and the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn., on Tuesday, January 26, 2021.

Who Can be the Catalyst?

The best chance Barnes has had against Self is when his teams set out to light up the scoreboard. The Vols’ coach is 3-3 against his longtime foe when scoring 80 or more points.

In 2018, Tennessee lost an 87-81 overtime thriller to Kansas at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the NIT Tip-Off. The Vols failed to get revenge from the loss last season in Lawrence when the Jayhawks won another 6-point affair.

In Barnes’ other 80-point outings, he has either won handily against Self or lost by four or less. For a team that is struggling to score points consistently, Barnes might want to give the green light to players like Keon Johnson, Jaden Springer, and Santiago Vescovi.

There has been an obvious hole in the offense when Springer was out with a gimpy ankle. He seems to be the only player that can create shots for himself. Tennessee scored 49 and 64 against Florida and Missouri, respectively. Springer missed both of those games. In his return on Tuesday night, the freshman notched 9 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists in 25 minutes.

Johnson has also proven to effective in flashes. He has scored six of his eight points in the last five minutes of Tuesday’s game. The freshman also drew a crucial charge in the waning minutes of the contest.

Another shot-maker that has shown up in glimpses is Vescovi. While he doesn’t possess the athleticism that Springer and Johnson do, he can still score in a flurry. Earlier this month, Vescovi went 6-of-10 from 3-point range against Texas A&M. The guard averages 30 minutes per game and shoots just under 40 percent on 3-point attempts.

Barnes probably doesn’t care who lights the fire. Somehow the Vols, and their coach, need to find a way to shift tendencies as two storylines collide Saturday night that could make or break the season for Tennessee.

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