June 20, 2024

Rocky Topics: Would an NIT bid be a failure?

The Vols still have an outside shot at an NCAA tournament bid. If they fall short, should their season be considered a failure?

Photo by Brad Blackwelder

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee's #11 Kyle Alexander jumps at the opening tip to start the game against Missouri on Feb. 18, 2017, at Thompson-Boling Arena.

On this week’s installment of Rocky Topics, David Wilson and Robert Hughes debate whether or not an NIT bid for the Tennessee Volunteers (15-12, 7-7 SEC) would be a failure

Wilson: I say that Tennessee making the NIT is a failure because the athletic department hired Rick Barnes to make NCAA tournaments. Barnes’ record with the Vols has yet to reflect the success he had a Texas. Tennessee has potential NBA talent on the roster this year, and to only get to the NIT would be degrading to the university and to Barnes.

Hughes: While an NIT bid wouldn’t be ideal, it certainly isn’t a failure. Barnes wasn’t dealt an awful hand of talent when he joined Tennessee’s staff, but he wasn’t dealt a great hand, either. Last season, he was asked to coach a mixed bag of seniors who had seen very little playing time. This season is quite the opposite, as he’s been asked to coach a lineup of mostly freshmen with a few upperclassmen sprinkled in (this includes Lew Evans, the greatest basketball player to ever exist). He’s gotten his freshmen to outperform their expectations, but I don’t think an NCAA tournament bid is on that list of expectations quite yet.

Wilson: I am going to pretend I did not just read that about Lew Evans, all due respect to him. You said it yourself, this season is quite the opposite with what Barnes has for talent. Robert Hubbs III is the leader in the locker room, and he backs up his talk on the court by leading the team in scoring. Grant Williams is the spotlight freshman on the team, which is beneficial for the Vols. Hubbs and Williams make up the dynamic duo that a team needs to make it to the NCAA tournament. If Tennessee misses this opportunity, who knows when it will get another?

Hughes: Let me clarify. While Barnes was given a different roster setup this season with mostly freshmen, that doesn’t mean his team is set up for success. Freshmen are young, impressionable and usually stubborn. It takes time for these players to develop. Sure, Williams has exceeded expectations, but he still has much to learn, as do his fellow young teammates. Redshirt freshman Lamonte Turner has been incredibly inconsistent. Kwe Parker has shown flashes of his superior athleticism, but he’s a turnover machine. Jordan Bone has been the most consistent of the freshman guards, but an ankle injury set his development back early on in the season. John Fulkerson seemed to be the most talented freshman of the entire class, but his arm injury is likely going to keep him out until the season’s end. If Barnes can develop these freshmen into consistent playmakers for Tennessee, NCAA tournaments will become the standard for the Vols. For now, getting a ticket to the Big Dance would exceed expectations. If you recall, these BabyVols were picked to finish No. 13 in the SEC, barely above dead last. With that in mind, Volunteers fans should consider an NIT bid anything but a failure.

Edited by Quinn Pilkey

Featured image by Brad Blackwelder