David Cloninger

Previewing SEC basketball: Tennessee

Tennessee coach Rick Barnes starts over after 17 years at Texas.
Tennessee coach Rick Barnes starts over after 17 years at Texas. AP

South Carolina basketball beat writer David Cloninger looks at every other team in the SEC as the season approaches.

Other previews

Oct. 31 Alabama

Nov. 1 Arkansas

Nov. 2 Auburn

Nov. 3 Florida

Nov. 4 Georgia

Nov. 5 Kentucky

Nov. 6 LSU

Nov. 7 Mississippi State

Nov. 8 Missouri

Nov. 9 Ole Miss



Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Rick Barnes (first year); 604-314, 23rd year)

2014-15 record (SEC finish): 16-16 (7-11)

2014-15 postseason: None



He’s outta here (senior unless otherwise noted): Coach Donnie Tyndall (fired), F Tariq Owens (transferred to St. John’s, 1.2 ppg, 1.1 rpg), G Ian Chiles (0.7 ppg, 0.7 rpg), G Brandon Lopez (did not play), G Josh Richardson (16.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg), F Willie Carmichael (transferred to Western Kentucky, 3.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg), G Braxton Bonds (transferred to Columbia State (Tenn.) Community College, redshirted last year), G Galen Campbell (0.0 ppg, 0.0 rpg)

He’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): 6-9 F Kyle Alexander, 6-3 G Lucas Campbell, 6-8 F Ray Kasongo (So., transferred from College of Southern Idaho), 6-2 G Shembari Phillips, 6-5 F Admiral Schofield, 6-1 G Lamonte Turner, 6-1 G Brad Woodson

Top returners: 6-5 F Armani Moore (10.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg), 6-4 G Kevin Punter (10.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg), 6-6 G Robert Hubbs (7.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg)

He made them believe again. He got them excited. He got them to pack Thompson-Boling Arena.

He got fired.

Tennessee was left in a familiar position last season – with faces yellow from having egg smeared on them – when it was forced to fire Donnie Tyndall after one year on the job. The suitcases full of violations he lugged with him from Southern Miss (which caused that program to voluntarily deny itself two postseasons) was just too much to handle. While Tyndall did more with an undermanned team than anybody expected, sold merchandise (“Donnie Knoxville”) and was a face made for social media with his sideline antics, the Volunteers had no other choice but to cut him.

Yet UT made the best out of a really bad situation. Texas was tired of Rick Barnes after he took the Longhorns to a mere 16 NCAA tournaments in 17 years and Tennessee was only too happy to offer him a lifeline. A North Carolina native, Barnes was very familiar with Tennessee since his wife, Candy, is an alumnus. The former Clemson coach with 604 career wins joyously traded his burnt orange neckties for a lighter shade.

So now what?

Barnes has to try his best to mimic the excitement that Tyndall brought, despite not having the proven talent. Tyndall had Josh Richardson, who had one of the best individual seasons in SEC history and played himself into an NBA draft pick. Barnes has the leftovers and whatever he could find on a shortened recruiting trail.

The Vols have some solid pieces returning, led by Armani Moore. While he’s not the tallest forward (6-foot-5), he’s physical and knows how to use muscle to shove shooters out of their lanes, instead of waiting to block their shots (although he’s good at that, too, averaging over a block per game). If Ray Kasongo can get cleared (he played in the exhibition, but the NCAA is still reviewing paperwork over “amateurism”), he can join Jabari McGhee in what can be a surprising backcourt.

There’s no more Richardson, but senior Kevin Punter averaged double figures last year and Robert Hubbs showed flashes of being a takeover player. There is a lot of height among the recruiting class, led by 6-10 Kyle Alexander.

Nobody’s expecting miracles this year – if there is one, it’s finishing above the bottom four of the league. Barnes knows how to coach but hasn’t had time to get his system and his players in place.

The knock on Barnes was that his teams always got to March but never did well once they got there. In a system where the hot team at the end was favored, Texas hardly ever improved in the spring.

He’ll have a long grace period before that comes up at Tennessee. He has to get to the point where he has a team that is picked high enough to disappoint.


Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Holly Warlick (86-20, fourth year/overall)

2014-15 record (SEC finish): 30-6 (15-1)

2014-15 postseason: Fourth round, NCAA



She’s outta here (senior unless otherwise noted): G Ariel Massengale (11.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg), F Cierra Burdick (11.0 ppg, 7.6 rpg), C Isabelle Harrison (12.2 ppg, 8.6 rpg), G Jannah Tucker (transferred to Villanova, 0.0 ppg, 0.5 rpg)

She’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): 6-1 G Diamond DeShields (So., transfer from North Carolina, sat out last year), 5-8 G Te’a Cooper, 5-11 G/F Meme Jackson

Top returners: 6-2 F Bashaara Graves (10.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg), 6-2 F Jasmine Jones (9.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg), 5-9 G Andraya Carter (7.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg)

Being used to winning means you have the right to complain when it’s been a horrifying seven years since your last Final Four berth. “Something has to change!” scream the most vocal of the web courageous.

But Holly Warlick knew the deal when she took over. She lived it as one of Tennessee’s all-time great players and was on the bench for Pat Summitt’s eight national titles. Being the woman to follow The Woman was never going to be an easy task, especially when rival Connecticut tied, then passed, the Lady Vols as the holder of the most championships.

The squawks are misinformed. Warlick did one of the best coaching jobs in the country last year when she guided a severely wounded team to within a breath of the Final Four. And this year?

Well, UConn and the rest may be saying, “Oh yeah, I remember those girls … ”

Tennessee lost its top three scorers off a 30-win SEC regular-season champion, yet is entering the season as a Top-5 team. The Vols return a lot of talent that had to play increased minutes with the injuries of last year, and one of the most hyped players in the country is finally eligible.

Diamond DeShields, a year removed from a National Freshman of the Year season, is ready to go. She has been fighting some minor injuries, but she’ll be cleared soon enough and remind all of us what she can do.

“She’s talent, intelligence, love of the game. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a kid as competitive as Diamond DeShields,” Warlick said at SEC Tipoff. “Sometimes we interpret a female being competitive as having a problem with attitude, but I love how hard she works. I love her attitude.”

DeShields’ ’tude was called into question when she left North Carolina after her freshman year, giving no reason other than she was unhappy. She picked Tennessee after looking at Georgia and South Carolina, sat out the required year and wants to be the one to lead the Lady Vols back to the Final Four.

She certainly has the talent. USC, which has won the last two SEC regular-season championships (tying with the Vols last year), knows all about DeShields. It was her and the Tar Heels that handed the Gamecocks two of their five losses two years ago, including the final one. Winning their third title will most likely come down to stopping DeShields.

With Georgia chum Te’a Cooper also committing to UT, the Vols have a small class of newcomers but one that stands to be very effective. Joining with Bash Graves and Jaime Nared, who played a lot of minutes in place of Isabelle Harrison last year, makes the Lady Vols as formidable as ever.

Warlick naturally knows the league got a lot better, but she also realizes UT won 15 of 16 SEC games last year with a shortened bench. With DeShields in town, Tennessee is eyeing Indianapolis.

“I think we’re talented. We lost a lot of talent but we are talented,” Warlick said. “We got to make sure we have consistency from a leadership standpoint.”

Follow on Twitter at @DCTheState