Tennessee coach Rick Barnes is confident the college basketball regular season and NCAA Tournament will be held this season.
But first things first.
“The most important thing for all of us right now is to get football up and going,’’ Barnes said during an exclusive interview on SportsTalk, WNML radio last week. “That’s what we need. We need fall sports to play.’’
To have fall sports, the number of nation-wide positive Covid-19 cases must decrease.
Southern states have had summer spikes and more spikes occurred at a variety of college campuses where students have congregated and partied.
“These next few weeks are critical,’’ Barnes said, adding “the student body and athletes must work together and stay safe. There’s no doubt I think it can be done and will be done.’’
There has been discussion about playing some non-conference games and the NCAA Tournament in a bubble.
“I think all that’s premature, to be honest and frank as I can be’’ Barnes said.
“Everybody says there will be a decision made in mid-September about basketball. That’s a little bit early to me.’’
Barnes said he appreciates “buying time’’ and the planning of the SEC office and the University of Tennessee regarding the pandemic.
Barnes noted that basketball practice used to start Oct. 15 with the first games played after Thanksgiving.
“The fact is, we’ve got time,’’ Barnes said. “And I think a lot can happen between now and October. I think someway, somehow we’ll have an NCAA Tournament.
“If not, it will affect more schools that you can imagine. I was talking to a friend of mine (recently) at a mid-level school and he said without the money (from the NCAA Tournament) … we can’t go two years without having NCAA money coming in.’’
It’s been estimated schools lost a combined $375 million by the NCAA Tournament being canceled last March.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma said he’s bracing for the season to be delayed.
“What’s delayed?’’ Barnes asked. “Is it delayed a week? Two weeks?
“If everybody had a perfect world, we’d like to see it stay on time. But we need to slow down with all this stuff and go one step at a time.’’
Barnes said Friday he had his entire team together for the first time since the season was canceled March 12. He said players are working on their “deficiencies’’ but “they have missed competing against each other. … Not one guy didn’t get better, but we haven’t competed, either.’’
Despite the disruptions, Barnes said he’s had “great leadership’’ from veterans, including seniors Yves Pons and John Fulkerson, who “have a voice, where in the past, maybe, they didn’t have as much as they should have.
“The accountability of older guys holding younger guys to is something you always want.’’
“Are they behind? They’re probably a little bit behind compared to competition.’’
Barnes said there have been “adjustment periods’’ during workouts that were new to players, then added: “Everybody thinks they work hard until they get here. Then they realize it’s a whole different level.’’
Tennessee has a chance to have a special season, with a mix of talented veterans and newcomers. Some have projected the Vols to win the SEC and rank among the nation’s top 10.
But first things first – there has to be a season.
“I do believe we’re going to play college basketball,’’ Barnes said. “There’s no doubt in my mind we’re going to do it, someway, somehow.’’