KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The regular season now in the books, Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes met with reporters on Monday to preview the upcoming SEC Men's Basketball Tournament, which gets underway Wednesday in Nashville.
The Vols, seeded ninth, open tournament play on Thursday, taking on eighth-seeded Georgia at 1 p.m. ET. That game will be televised on SEC Network.
A full video replay of Barnes' press conference can be viewed above while the full transcript of his comments can be found below.
Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes
(On the team's second-half defense in Saturday's win vs. Alabama)
"After looking at the tape, I thought we were pretty good defensively in the first half and they made some great shots. They were shooting the ball really well and I thought our guys stayed in there. It is difficult when you are struggling to score and missing shots. You feel you are playing hard, but the other team is making shots. I do think we did a better job with the ball screen defense then we had been. We switched and our post guys did a good job. Shembari (Phillips) was in a number of those and I thought he did a great job when he got screened of getting back in front of the ball instead of staying on his man's hip. That is what has been hurting us the past couple of games. We were pretty good from start to finish [on Saturday]. I thought Lew's (Evans) post defense was really good when he got in. We were thinking of doubling their post player, but instead of that we just let Lew go. He does a pretty good job of not letting people back him down."
(On defending Georgia's J.J. Frazier, the SEC's third-leading scorer)
"The best to way defend J.J. Frazier right now I think is telling me where they are staying and telling the chef to spike his food. What I love about him is that he is not selfish at all. When you think about the game here, he was a factor even before the second half in terms of running the team, driving, and he does a good job when you try to get him out of his rhythm. He is good at the rim and he is good at finishing layups. He finds the open man and puts it where it needs to be and lets the shooter step into it. He makes things easier for his teammates. When they rely on him, like in the second half here and after the game against Kentucky, it is hard to guard a guy when there isn't a five-second count and where he can yo-yo with it and they set multiple screens and he has got his head up all the time and he is looking to make the play. If you go under and give him the space, he can knock it down and he is really good splitting your defense. He does a good job finishing, but he is experienced and what I like about him he can play a lot of different ways. It sounds easy to say we are going to do this and we are going to do that, but he will adjust. The best thing he does is make his teammates around him better. We need Shembari (Phillips) in some situations because [Frazier] does a good job of getting the defender in the screen. Your post guys have to help a lot. One guy is not going to be able to do it and that is true of any good guard that knows how to play when you are in ball screen situations. It is going to take our post guys. We were back too far and if you go under he makes you pay. If you go over top he is going to go at them with a head of steam. It is going to collectively take a group effort with not just the two guys on the ball in ball screen defense, but the whole defense has got to be there."
(On the potential for parity at the SEC Tournament)
"I think it is wide open. The matchups are always key. I think it is wide open because there is not an undefeated team in the league and some teams that we will be playing twice. Some teams, I haven't looked at the bracket closely, but some teams will be playing each other for the third time. That makes it really, really hard. But the fact is you know each other so well. When you go into conference play we know that anything can happen. I have said it all along that our league is much better than people think. I understand the RPIs and all that. I will tell you that if they aren't talking about Ole Miss being a tournament team-- and Georgia is there thinking, 'We can string together some victories right here.' If you think about it, [Georgia] played well at Kentucky and played two really good games. I think there are teams that think they can string things together here, so who knows? I think that is what makes this week of college basketball really really good."
(On freshman guard Jordan Bone)
"Every player should know what it takes to win. What you have to have is consistency. You can't take plays off at any point in time. If you go back and look you see that every game is decided by a few possessions here and there, even if the score is a 10- or 12-point game. A couple of possessions here and there can make all of the difference in the world. You cannot break down and you can't break down late in the possession. You asked me about Jordan Bone and he has learned this year that it is a whole lot harder than he thought it was going to be. Now he has to figure out how to be consistent and take it to another level because this time of year the intensity is going to get ratcheted up. In a possession game you can't let down, and I think Jordan has learned it is harder than what he thought it would be. I think he is learning a lot and I am placing a lot of emphasis on defense. With Lamonte Turner and Jordan, they are in same situation. The fact that they have always relied on the offensive side of the ball and both of those guys realize thats difficult in regards to running the team. They are young and freshman and its our job to get them better and we will."
(On what the NCAA selection committee is looking for each year)
"To be honest with you, I do not know if I know the answer to it. I think what you just said is what coaches want: consistency. I think it has been stated pretty clearly that your strength of schedule is really important, which I think is about to become more so because of all the unbalanced schedules in the Power Five leagues. Only the Big East and the Big 12 play round robin schedules. I do think that there is more of an emphasis on your non-league schedule. The consistency part, I think that is what everyone wants to know. Is it going to be the same year after year. I keep mentioning Ole Miss. They are a terrific team, they are an NCAA-worthy team. You look at Vanderbilt and I think that they have to be in the tournament. They have played the hardest non-league schedule in the country. If you ask me, personally, I think that you should have to go out and play tough games and make all those games in November matter too. I do not think that you can write off November and December games and act like they are not important. We are going to see if they are consistent because we need it to be consistent."
(On if the NCAA places emphasis on conference tournament results)
"We have had that talk many times in the Big 12, about our championship game being on Sunday. We fought like crazy to get that game off of Sunday because there would be times that we played Sunday and we would walk right off the court, get back on the plane and go home for a day and a half then have turn right back around. The worst thing would be if you have to play on Thursday. I think there are times that the committee should say, 'the winner goes here and the loser goes here,' because they have to have that bracket ready to go. There’s so much more that goes into it now. They have people that are watching college basketball year-round. It is so much different then it used to be in the past. They realize that it is such an important event for basketball and for people in general and they want to get it right. It’s a hard thing for them to do, for them to get it right every time. As coaches we need to know exactly what it is that they are looking for moving forward."
(On talking about what went right last year in the tournament)
"Well I think when you come in where we did a year ago playing on Wednesday, the conversation was it comes down to who really wants to keep playing. I think that is true in conference play and the conference tournament late in the year. I was really proud of our guys on Saturday. We were reeling. There was no doubt about it and you could see it in our guys. They fought hard. The fought really hard in the first half against Alabama, and Alabama is a good team. Avery (Johnson) does a good job of making it hard for you to score with them switching and changing defenses. I remember walking back to our locker room and as I was about to walk in I heard Admiral (Schofield) say to them, 'Hey, if we will just keep guarding we will make shots.' So I think they did understand that they were defending them pretty well. I do think we came out and got even more aggressive. We extended our defense and I think that helped us and got them driving the ball a little it. It’s hard. This time of year you just hope you have a group of guys that have pride and want to continue to play. It is going to be a new experience for our guys. There are a lot of guys that have not been in the conference tournament that are getting ready to go to. They are going to find out that Georgia and every other team there are going to want to keep playing. It gets down to you better have that competitive fire and willingness to do what you have to do to win."
(On home court advantage playing in Nashville)
"I thought that it had helped us last year when we went there in the first game against Auburn and then we came back against Vanderbilt. I thought our fans were terrific so I do not think there is any question that they helped us. You just have to realize that much of my time in the Big 12 we played in Kansas City, and that was like a home-field advantage for the schools up in that part of the conference -- whether you played Kansas up there or Ohio State or Missouri at the time. They had a great following of fans and I would like to get to the point where our fans really look forward every year to the tournament in Nashville, that they want to come and really help us and help us win a tournament championship."
(On his pick for SEC Player of the Year)
"I voted for (South Carolina's Sindarius) Thornwell. Why? It’s nothing against (Kentucky's) Malik Monk. It’s really not. I think he’s a terrific player. I’ve said before -- (assitant coach) Rob Lanier mentioned this months ago -- I think, as a league, we should come up with a most-improved player, and maybe even a most-improved team from year-to-year. I think when you look at Thornwell, you look at a guy that has really, really improved. What I love about him, you go back to when you’re playing against guys, I remember in this building, here. It was a tough, hard-fought, ugly game. But I can remember him. One of his teammates had bent over, and during a timeout at the free-throw line, had his hands on his knees. I heard Thornwell saying, 'Hey man, get up! You’re not tired. Stand up!' Coaches love those kinds of things, and it just tells you a little bit about him. You’ve seen him, at times, put them on his back and carry them. You could make a case for a number of different guys in the league. Not just (Malik) Monk, but (Kentucky's) De’Aaron Fox and (Edrice) Adebayo have gotten better. There are so many of them at Kentucky. I just think what he’s done and what he’s done against us -- that’s why I voted the way I voted. It’s not against anybody else in the league. I just have that much respect and admiration for him."
(On the Vols’ finishing ninth in the SEC standings after being picked 13th in the preseason)
"Yes, I think we should’ve been better. I feel like we’re better than where we are, but you are who you are. We were in a position coming down the stretch and the thing that we didn’t do is we didn’t take it to another level. I’m talking about intensity. I’m talking about focus. Because every week once you get into February, you’ve got to get better. Or you’re getting worse because other people are going to keep getting better. I felt like we leveled off on the mental side of it. I don’t think we had bad days of practice, but did I see us moving the needle a little bit forward? I didn’t (see it). That’s what we kept harping on. I said at the beginning of the year when someone told me about 13th, we never saw ourselves as a 13th pick. I’ve said it before. Do I think we’re capable of being a postseason team? I said, 'I do think that.' We put ourselves in position, but we didn’t finish it. Now for us to be there, we have to go to Nashville with the fact of, 'Hey, if we want to play after next week or this week, we better win them all.' There’ll be plenty of time here for us to go back and evaluate everything. I don’t know if you ever go without evaluating. Even during the season, you’re constantly evaluating. That’s why I think we have had to keep tweaking our lineup, patching it together here or there. We went through some tough times in the last month, where losing (Jordan) Bowden at a tough time hurt us. That happens. That happens to everybody. I think (Georgia head coach) Mark Fox has done a great job patching his guys together. He’s had to remake his team a couple of different ways. I just think that’s part of what we do. You hope, when those things happen, there’s someone that can step in and play. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t. Like I said, I think we’re going to learn something this week about our team. I do. I think them going to Nashville is going to be an experience, and hopefully we can play well and get something done and be there more than a day. That’s what you hope."
(On if he sees a rivalry with Alabama)
"I don’t know. You guys could answer that, probably, better than me. I do think that when you’re in an unbalanced league, it’s hard to have a rivalry game if you’re not playing home-and-home. That’s the only thing I can tell you I’ve learned by experience, being in the Big 12 for most of the time, being in divisional play. It was a big difference when you played home games against teams that you play twice as opposed to (once). For instance, I can remember early in my time at Texas when Kansas State, Iowa State, Missouri and Nebraska came to town. It wasn’t the same once we went to divisional play. Iowa State, it became a big game, once they were coming every year. With Kansas State, all that changed, when they were coming every year. I think people can identify, as a league, we’re probably going to have to have discussions moving forward. I do think we want to build big rivalries in the league. You look at the way we have it set up right now, I think most people are pretty happy with our common opponents being Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina. But you’d think it would be Georgia, a 21-minute flight over the mountain, to be there."