Rick Barnes Press Conference — Monday, March 7

(On the SEC Tournament matchups)
“It is going to be interesting in our league now because some of the matchups you will only be playing the team for the second time. What makes conference tournaments really difficult is matching up for the third time. I think our game with Auburn is like that because both teams know each other really well. I haven’t looked at the bracket across there. It gets down to this time of year when teams are playing with real confidence and they understand themselves. They are able to recover from nights where they do not shoot well and they find a way with their energy and their defense, but match ups certainly have something to do with it. Look at us, teams with an outside and inside presence always give us a hard time. We have also watched great things happen when teams come out of nowhere. This time of year has a lot to do with confidence.”

(On Admiral Schofield wearing an ice pack during the Ole Miss game)
“No those guys are always icing up for various reasons. He was back in the gym yesterday on his own doing some stuff. He is always in the gym. He is fine.”

(On if there is a favorite in the tournament)
“If you look at the regular season I would have to say it is pretty wide open. All teams have had there ebbs and flows, but if you look at it with the losses in the league and wins in the league. I think it is wide open.”

(On the team getting confidence back before Wednesday)
“What it comes back to is losing Kevin (Punter Jr.), you have to put people in different positions that they do not normally play and you are asking them to do things they do not normally do. The last couple of games we knew were going to be very tough and I think that was a really great game for Ole Miss. I think that with where they were they knew a loss to Tennessee wouldn’t be a good loss and I think they have a real chance for an NCAA bid. Whether you want to talk about Vandy or any of those teams, they are playing for something this time of year and that is why it is tough to keep focus and confidence if you don’t feel as if you are playing for something. We are trying to convince our guys that every game you are playing for something and now we definitely have a new start like everyone else. With Kevin gone you can get through maybe two games without him, but we are asking guys to play totally different positions that they have played all year, but between now and Wednesday we are going to have to get back. Shembari (Phillips) is going to have to play some point and we will have to live with his mistakes and Armani (Moore) as well, but we are going to have to do some things that we have practiced all year.”

(On the disparity of the scorelines in the two games Tennessee played against Auburn in the regular season)
“I think it is all of that. Then you throw in the mental state of every team at one point in time. Where are they mentally? I know they were struggling at that point in time, they had a player leave the team right around there and putting guys in different roles to all come together. I think both teams have had highlights and low lights when you think you are able to get going and you can’t seem to get going. It can get frustrating, and I think that frustration can get to the players and all we want our guys to do is compete and bring energy. I don’t think they understood what teams like Vandy and Ole Miss are playing for. When we are where we are we have to play harder than everybody that has to be the first step.”

(On getting just two points from Shembari Phillips against Ole Miss)
“I think it has to do with young guys thinking every game is going to be the same and this game was different. We knew they were going to press and get in zones, but I think he got rattled and he let it affect him. When I took him out of the game he made a comment to me and said, ‘Coach, I’m not a point guard.’ And I said, ‘You need to learn to be one real quick.’ I think that is how frustrated he got. I think he is young and I don’t think he will make that statement again because he has to realize that he is being asked to things he hasn’t done before in the hunt for an NCAA tournament. Teams were coming at him with two or three guys and he needs to get his teammates to help him. If he isn’t doing his part they cannot help him. He kept getting the ball to areas on the court where there was no help for him and he kept locking into the sideline and picking the ball up and putting it over his head and I think this is a learning experience for him. Young players think when they have played one game they think that the next game will come that way again and it won’t.”

(On which players will step into a leadership role next season with the departure of Kevin Punter Jr.)
“Right now, it’d be Lamonte Turner. We would’ve been a different team this year with Lamonte. There’s no question about that. Lamonte would’ve been a starter, but it is what it is. You have Lamonte. You have Shembari (Phillips), who’s had to play that position, Admiral (Schofield), Kyle (Alexander). All those guys as freshmen have gotten great experience that we can build off of. We’re obviously excited about our recruiting class coming in. You look within our program right now, there’s been some guys that have played a lot of minutes. They’ve had some moments where they’ve been very, very good. We’ve got to get better in everything that we’re doing, but Lamonte at this point would be the guy. He plays that position every day. He’s a guy that if you talk to the players, they will tell you he’s very effective playing that. He’s a guy that we use in practice when we’re getting ready to play against guards that are explosive and can do different things. We let him do it, and they would tell you. He’s got some things that he can do, but as a freshman next year he’ll go through some growing pains just like all these other guys. Just like on the day off yesterday, Shembari, Admiral, those guys were in the gym. We’ve got some guys here that love it, and they want to get this thing going.”

(On the benefits of Lamonte Turner’s redshirt season)
“I’ve coached him hard, too, this year. There’s been days that I’ve said, `You’re letting a great year go by.’ He really has worked hard on his game offensively, but like most young guys, understanding the defensive side of it. He’s capable of doing that. He’s worked hard at getting himself in the kind of shape he needs to be in, but it hasn’t been easy on him. It hasn’t been. I think he’s really been a good teammate, because he comes to practice — a guy that knows he’s not going to play, he’s one of the last guys that will leave the gym every day. He loves this game. He really has a great love for it. We respect him for what he’s had to do. It hasn’t been easy, but he’s really made the most of it for the most part.”

(On the challenges of motivating a team this late in the season)
“I think it’s hard when there’s a gap between older players and younger players. I think there’s a big gap there, where the older guys have been around. They’ve had some tough years obviously. The younger guys are going through it for the first time. What you hope is that they don’t forget the feeling that we’re feeling right now. Everybody says, `You’ve got to forget it and move on.’ I don’t think you do that. I think you remember it. That’s what makes you get up every day and work harder and come back and say, `We’ve got to do it the right way.’ It goes back to consistency. We’re asking guys to play hard every day, but you go to the young guys. Just like the questions about Shembari, Admiral. They’ll have good game, then they’ll go backwards. Take a step forward, take a step backwards. That’s part of it. We’re counting on those guys to do more than we would want them to do, but they’re going to have to do it. I think it will come back to them, to help them going forward, but at some point in time it gets down to your personal pride and your personal work ethic. You want to be the best that you can be. Whatever it is, that’s what you go out and work at every day, and understand that it’s still about competition. You’re competing, and you don’t ever want to get in a mindset where something doesn’t matter, it’s not important, because I think all that stuff trickles over into other areas of your life. I just think you’ve got to get up every day and go about your business with a passion and a zeal, and a commitment to being the best that you can be.”

(On Armani Moore’s ability to fill so many roles)
“We’ve asked him to do so much. In some ways, we’re disappointed that we didn’t have other guys help him do more. Kevin (Punter Jr.) and he were both having terrific senior years. I do think it’s been really hard on Armani. He doesn’t know from game to game where he’s going to have settle in and play. At times we’ve said we want to try to get him where he’s playing the step-out four position, because he’s better there. That’s where he’s best, because he creates mismatches right there. He can’t do that right now if Shembari [Phillips] doesn’t handle the point the way it needs to be handled. If Shembari’s not handling the point, Armani’s got to go do that. We get locked into a tight game and they’re scoring on us, now he’s got to go do that, whether it’s a post player or a perimeter player he’s got to guard. He’s been asked to do a lot, and he’s responded to it. I think he’s done everything that we could ask him to do. I also think that he’ll tell you that it’d be a whole lot easier if he had more consistent help from his teammates.”

(On Barnes’ plans if Tennessee doesn’t make it into the NCAA tournament)
“The fact is, yeah, it’s different, it really is, it really is. And it’s not fun. We do have a new start here now, and again, and you’re right, it’s going to have to be an unbelievable run to make anything happen out of it. You’d have to win the tournament and you look at what we’ve done to this point, I don’t think that you think that we could do that, but sometimes people help you along the way, and we’d need some help along the way. But the fact is, we knew coming in where we would be and it goes back to when Mike asked the question today, did I believe what I said about going to the postseason tournament with this group, and I believe that. I look back on it now, I could go back and show you that we blew some opportunities. So as a coach, you look back and you don’t ever stop evaluating yourself. How do we get over the hump because we are trying to build something here, but we have a group of guys who have witnessed the fact that we had chances to do some good things, but we didn’t build on it. We take a step forwards, a step backwards and so you’re never, ever not evaluating where you are or what you have to do as a team. You’re always trying to build. You’re recruiting, every year is a new team. The one thing I’ve said my entire life, because when you’re at a place where you go to the tournament every year, people have the tendency to take it for granted, and I’ve said every year you don’t ever take that for granted. Like right now, I’m feeling for my guy Mark Few at Gonzaga. I don’t know where they are exactly, but people tell me they’re right there, in or out. He’s had a great run. But people take it for granted, you don’t take it for granted. You look back a couple of years ago, I think Kentucky was in the NIT. It’s just not something that you take for granted, to be part of a postseason tournament. It’s something that you work for and really, you work for it year-round. So as a coach, it’s not a good feeling, obviously, because I think that we’ve come short with this group of guys and I can’t think any other way. I’ve had people tell me you guys are short-handed, you’re this and you’re that, and that is what it is, but I believe that if you get enough guys to believe in what you’re doing and if they’re willing to do their part that you can make something happen.”

(On the advantage of playing in the opening game of the tournament on Wednesday)
“Yeah, I’ve been in situations where I’ve seen it work to your advantage where you just get in and you go and you start playing and other teams have to sit around. They’re going to have to be watching tournament games all week, that’s not a fun feeling either. The worst game of all is when you play the last game in the first round in a Pacific time zone in the NCAA tournament when you wait around all day and half the teams have gone home before you even get to play. I’m not sure I’d like to play five days or four days straight, but the fact is, they’re young guys and whatever your situation is, you’ve just got to make it work. You’ve got to position it in a way that they understand that this is where we are and you gotta do what you have to do.”

(On if he believes Kevin Punter Jr. is a first team All-SEC player)
“Well, he’s my guy, so obviously I’m partial to him. I think if he would’ve finished out the year the way he was playing, and again, we know now that he was hurt long before he even said it. Long before. It didn’t just come up. He’s had to deal with that, and I think it’s just an incredible testament to him, how tough he is and how hard he worked. I just think of how much time he has spent in that gym from the time that we’ve gotten here. I know how he worked at trying to learn a new position and I can tell you that prior to him getting hurt, he was definitely playing like a first team All-Southeastern Conference player.”

Grant Ramey covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at twitter.com/GrantRamey