Men's Basketball vs. Presbyterian

Tennessee's Victor Bailey Jr. during the men's basketball game vs. Presbyterian in Thompson-Boling Arena on Nov. 30, 2021.

Tennessee basketball was slated to begin last season’s campaign on Nov. 25, 2020 against Charlotte before continuing against VCU a few days later. Neither game would be played – nor would following matchups against Gonzaga, Notre Dame and UT Martin.

In fact, the Vols would not play a game until 13 days later against Colorado on Dec. 8. Tennessee had agreed to and fell through on plans for five separate games and was searching for a contest in the middle of an unprecedented scheduling circus as COVID-19 cancellations became commonplace.

Colorado – facing cancellations itself – answered the call. The Buffs traveled to Knoxville with two wins under their belt, but the eventual tournament team could not handle a suffocating Volunteers defense and fell 56-47.

“This time last year, we had made up two of those games that we had scheduled on the fly … obviously UT Martin being one of them and Colorado being the other one,” Barnes said. “We were thankful that they were able to do it.”

Now, Barnes and his Tennessee squad travel to Boulder, Colorado, to do it again against the Buffaloes Saturday at 2 p.m. Soon after, Tennessee will hop on another flight to Madison Square Garden in New York to take on a Texas Tech program seeing success without the services of now-Texas coach Chris Beard.

“Tad (Boyle) was able to come here (last season) which helped us because we were coming off just having a couple days of practice prior to that,” Barnes said. “Going on this trip, I think it's going to be a big week for us.”

The Vols game against Colorado will be their first true non-conference road environment since Jan. 25, 2020 against Kansas.

Colorado’s CU Events Center is ranked as one of the toughest courts to play at on the road according to Kenpom.com.

“We're playing two outstanding teams – It's really a true road game here early and then obviously, a neutral site game up in New York,” Barnes said.

Tennessee certainly has more of a chance to get better against a team like Colorado, one known for playing physical in the paint and running its offense through sophomore forward Jabari Walker and senior center Evan Battey.

As a whole, the Buffs score 23.7% of their points from the free throw line, the 16th most in Division 1 basketball. Alternatively, Colorado’s 21.5% of scoring from deep is among the lowest in the country – the Buffs have yet to take more than 26 threes in any game this season, Tennessee’s average of shots taken from deep per game.

Dynamic guards Keeshawn Barthelemy and Elijah Parquet also have a knack for getting to the charity stripe and have done a fine job replacing NBA talent McKinley Wright from last season’s squad.

The Vols will be offensively challenged Saturday. Colorado head coach Tad Boyle has run a 2-3 zone at times this season, one that gave Tennessee guards trouble when searching for feeds to the paint.

“Last year, they played a lot of 2-3 zones, so we will certainly expect to see that some because it has definitely stifled us in some ways,” Barnes said.

Tennessee’s prowess from deep may sway the longevity of that, but Boyle’s man-to-man defense has also proven to be effective against unsuspecting teams so far this season.

Whether it be in a tough road environment like Colorado or Madison Square Garden, coach Barnes is still solely focused on improving every day in the early season non-conference slate.

“I say it every time we go out, we have a chance to learn something about ourselves and see if we can continue to do what we need to do to get better,” Barnes said. “Hopefully, we'll continue to find something out about us in these next two games."

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