After a rigorous SEC slate so far, the Tennessee Vols will step away from the conference battles and head to Iowa to take on the Iowa State Cyclones.
The Vols will host a Cyclones team that hasn’t been as good as it has been in recent memory, but they won't let that fool them.
The Cyclones are 2-6 in the Big 12, but both of those wins have come at home in Hilton Coliseum — a place Rick Barnes is very familiar with.
In his time at Texas, Barnes led his teams to just a 4-6 record at the Hilton Coliseum and lost his last four games in what has become a hostile environment for opponents.
“They love their teams,” Barnes said. “Their fans are really basketball fans. I’ve been in there ... they talk about Hilton Magic.”
As recently as last week, that Hilton Magic was performed when the Cyclones upset a top-10 ranked opponent, the Texas Tech Red Raiders, at home.
Despite a young roster, the Vols have held their own on the road this season, compiling a 4-2 record.
The Vols will enter this game winners of five of their last six games, but Barnes isn’t satisfied just yet.
In those six games, several players have had great games, but that has come at the expense of other players playing well. This has caused Barnes to mix and match players into rotations without knowing exactly what he will get.
“It goes back to that one word — consistency,” Barnes said. “I do think guys understand roles, I just think it’s a matter of the persistency and consistency of doing them everyday and knowing we’re going to get this every single time out.”
The road test could help Barnes finally figure out what he has in his team.
Guard Jordan Bowden was able to snap his shooting slump after hitting five threes against Vanderbilt at home. Jordan Bone has seen his play fall off as of late, but that has led to back-to-back big games from Lamonte Turner.
In the front court, Barnes has been going to Derrick Walker, Kyle Alexander, Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams to handle all of those minutes. John Fulkerson hasn’t seen much playing time as of late, but Walker’s emergence has really helped the front court.
“As long as he keeps it going, I think it’s going to be good,” Williams said. “Keeping that consistent effort that he’s playing with, that hustle, grit.”
A problem that the Cyclones could present is stellar guard play, something the Vols have become accustomed to this season.
Freshman Lindell Wiggington is the Cyclones’ leading scorer, averaging 16.2 points while shooting 43 percent from three-point range.
“They’ve got a young freshman guard that I really think is doing a terrific job for them,” Barnes said.
One issue with the SEC-Big 12 challenge is that not all teams from the SEC get to participate since the SEC is larger than the Big 12. This has caused a major problem this season with Auburn having the best record in the SEC but not being elected as a participant in the tournament.
“Arguably right now our (SEC) best team is Auburn, and they’re not in it,” Barnes. “I don’t know how it can be a true challenge until all the teams are in it together.”
The game is set to tipoff at 4:05 p.m. Eastern and will be televised on ESPNU.