The Tennessee men’s basketball doesn’t play a currently ranked team until Nov. 30, but their first real test of the season could come Tuesday night against Murray State at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Racers (1-0) reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament last spring, but will come to Knoxville this week with significant pieces missing from that team, including one Ja Morant who is now playing for the Memphis Grizzlies.
For Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes, the Vols (1-0) aren’t overlooking the current Murray State team.
“They return some experienced players that played for an NCAA Tournament team a year ago and are a year older,” Barnes said. “Roles will change from year to year, I don’t care who you bring back.”
Not only does Barnes see a team that could beat Tennessee, he sees a team that is very similar to Tennessee in a lot of ways, starting in the paint and working out to the perimeter.
“I think they play very much like we like to play, inside out,” said Barnes. “They have a really good post presence and are really solid defensively, and they’ve got some experienced guys who have played in some big games. They’ve added two terrific shooters from the perimeter that you really need to know where they are. They’re an inside team, with a really good post presence. I think they’re a well-coached team.”
The Vols’ last outing was a 78-63 season-opening win over UNC Asheville last week. Following that game, Barnes challenged his senior guards, Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden, who accounted for more than 10 turnovers in the contest.
Heading into game two, there are several areas across the court that Barnes would like to see improvement, including limiting turnovers and getting young players involved.
“A couple of areas,” Barnes said. “One being that our older guys really need to settle in and take care of the ball. If they do that, I think the younger guys will follow that lead. We have to be a lot more efficient with the offense. Defensively, I think we’re playing hard and we’ve got to play a lot smarter.”
At this point in the season, Barnes says that the coaching staff doesn’t yet have a “great feel” of where his young team is successful.
He hopes the continued experience, including Tuesday night against Murray State, will help remedy that as a tough non-conference slate looms.
“I don’t know if we have a great feel yet,” Barnes said. “Because we’ve dealt with injuries where we haven’t really gotten to get everybody going in the same direction at the same time where we’re healthy enough to know what we do have and what we can count on night-in and night-out. We’ve got some guys who are going to continue to grow as we go through the season. Every time they go out, they’re going to get experience.”
Tennessee will look for that continued growth when they tip-off against Murray State at 9 p.m. on the SEC Network.