JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — Rick Barnes made it clear he doesn’t plan on coming back to Freedom Hall to play East Tennessee State or any other in-state mid-major anytime soon.
Tennessee (7-5) escaped sold-out Freedom Hall with a 72-68 victory over the Bucs (9-3) on Thursday night before a fired-up crowd.
Barnes said it was a good win, but he admits he didn’t appreciate the added pressure of beating a Southern Conference, in-state opponent.
“I wasn’t looking forward to it,” Barnes said, asked about playing East Tennessee State on the road Thursday night. “When we got here, the game was already scheduled.”
Moving forward, Barnes wants the Vols to focus on playing bigger-name opponents at national venues.
“We’ll play anybody in the state in Knoxville, but our non-league schedule, we’re gonna play a national schedule and play places we can recruit,” Barnes said. “We played North Carolina, Georgia Tech, (and) we’ve been in conversation with Memphis, and we want to go to New York.
“We want to spread our program out and we want to be a national program.”
As things stand, Tennessee could get Memphis back on the schedule as early as the 2018-19 season, and Barnes is reportedly looking to get a home-and-home with Arizona or UCLA, according to 247Sports.
The Vols are scheduled to play next season in the Battle at Atlantis (Bahamas) and are part of the preseason NIT field in 2018-19.