Jimmy’s blog: Barnes says UT plans to open season Nov. 25

By Jimmy Hyams

The highly regarded Tennessee men’s basketball team plans to open the season Nov. 25 at home with two games in three days, coach Rick Barnes told the Knoxville Quarterback Club on Monday.

The opponents reportedly will be Virginia Commonwealth and Charlotte.

Barnes said UT had hoped to open the season Nov. 27 in Orlando but that tournament was canceled.

Barnes said the Vols actually lost two practice dates anticipating the season would start Nov. 27, rather than Nov. 25.

Barnes said the non-conference schedule has yet to be completed and the SEC has not released its schedule, except to say the season will start in late December and end several days earlier to provide time for potential makeup games.

Barnes earlier said games against Wisconsin (Nov. 11) and Memphis (in Nashville) would not be played this year.

UT was set to play Gonzaga in the Jimmy V Classic in New York but that was canceled.

Barnes said he wants to play Gonzaga this season “someway, somehow.’’ The most likely way would be at Gonzaga or in Knoxville.

Barnes said he would like for his team to get the “experience’’ of playing a road game.

Barnes said the Vols scrimmaged Saturday and of the newcomers, grad transfer E.J. Anosike did “far and away the best’’ in understanding his role. He said Anosike has done a “major overhaul’’ with this shot.

Barnes said Anosike and Oregon transfer guard Victory Bailey are “way ahead of the freshmen.’’

Asked about the versatility of his players, Barnes said “you can’t take advantage of that until they understand the base package.’’ He said the freshmen are having “good days and bad days’’ and they’re still “learning.’’

Barnes: “We can’t continue to make the same mistakes over and over. … We have a system and they need to use their talents within the system.’’

Barnes said players need to “take where they’re better off the court and mesh it with the team’’ and just because you’ve improved your 3-point shot doesn’t give you a green light to shoot when you want.

Barnes said some players missed 50 days of workouts (Drew Pember missed 52) due to contact tracing and the full roster wasn’t available until Monday.

He said UT is testing for the virus once a week but will start testing three times a week the week of Nov. 23.

“Our guys are taking it seriously,’’ Barnes said.

Barnes said his biggest concern about playing games involves officials. He said if you’re down to one ref, you can’t play the game. He said having an alternate ref at games has been discussed to avoid that issue.

Barnes said UT’s bench will be diagonally across the court from its usual spot in Thompson-Boling Arena so players won’t cross paths during stops in play or going to the locker rooms. UT will be on the Southeast side of the arena and the visiting team will be on the Southwest side.

Barnes said fans won’t be seated behind the benches until row 5. He said he expects about 4,000 for home games.

Barnes said some players had COVID-19 but he did not ID them. Forward Yves Pons, the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year, said publicly he got the virus.

Barnes thinks Pons is “as good a defensive player as there in the country’’ and he’s “working hard to expand his game offensively.’’

Barnes said Pons has been bothered by a “small injury’’ and it “kills him to not be at practice.’’

Barnes applauded Pons for hosting a cooking class to raise money for the Make A Wish Foundation and mentioned Pons is well rounded with his ability to play the saxophone and his passion for photography.

“I wish everybody could coach a guy like him (Pons),’’ Barnes said.

Barnes said he expects a team must have 7-8 players available to play a game.

Barnes also said sophomore guard Santiago Vescovi is in “much better shape’’ than a year ago and has improved, though he didn’t have a good scrimmage Saturday.

Vescovi arrived in Knoxville in December, was thrust into the starting lineup about a week later, hit six 3s in his debut against LSU and averaged 10.7 points.

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