KNOXVILLE, Tenn.. — Tennessee has won three straight games and risen back up to No. 21 in the polls, but anybody who follows the Vols closely knows Rick Barnes isn’t about to put his team on cruise control.
Tennessee’s third-year head basketball coach said his guards need to play more consistent. Wednesdav night’s game at Missouri (TV: 9 p.m. SEC Network) would be an ideal time for that to start for the Vols.
“You guys have seen it all year, our guard play has been inconsistent, so we need those guys to be more consistent as a group,” said Barnes, whose backcourt will be challenged by Cuonzo Martin’s hard-nosed defense. “I think James Daniel and Lamonte Turner need to get more consistent. We’ve got to know what we’ll get from those guys.”
Same goes for talented sophomore Jordan Bone, Tennessee’s starting point guard. Bone is, perhaps, the ultimate x-factor this season.
“I still think (Bone) is learning; the word inconsistency applies to him,” Barnes said. “He bounced back against (Texas) A&M, he came with more energy. His on-ball defense was much better, but he still has to work away from the ball defensively.
“On the offensive end he’s understanding more the identity we want to play with.”
Bone, coming off a 10-point, 4-assist performance in the win over Texas A&M on Saturday, agrees with his head coach.
“I’m just locking in on defense and being aggressive offensively, and I think that puts a lot of pressure on teams,” Bone said. “Our guards have to stay aggressive. That makes us a harder team to guard.
“Things are a lot more clear for me. Every game I get more comfortable and more comfortable, adjusting to different defenses.”
Tennessee’s front court, meanwhile, is adjusting to different backcourt combinations.
“We’re gonna play with the guy who’s playing well,” Barnes said, discussing his guards “You go back to the Vanderbilt game, I think (Turner) and James Daniel were the guys who finished the game. You could tell they were locked in.
“You go back to Kentucky game, (Tuner) was locked in there. I don’t think he was locked in against Texas A&M.”
No doubt, it has been hard to figure who will be running the point in the closing minutes or for the majority of the action from one game to the next.
Barnes said that the guards’ success also plays a role in determining where versatile Admiral Schofield plays — on the wing, or inside at power forward.
It creates an interesting matchup dynamic for the Vols when Bone goes from playing 9 minutes against Kentucky (5 points), to 25 minutes against Vanderbilt (8 points) and 27 minutes vs. Texas A&M (10 points).
This, after Bone played 38 and 32 minutes in losses to Arkansas and Auburn while pouring in 21 and 18 points, respectively.
Barnes said there were times Bone wasn’t as active as he needed to be. The head coach said Bone needs to get better at taking himself out of the action.
Bone admitted that knowing when to come out is a hard skill to learn but realizes it’s important.
“As a basketball player you never want to come out of the game,” Bone said. “There are a lot of times I’m dead tired and I find myself resting, and that’s not good, my coaches would rather I’m in the game controlling the tempo.”
Daniel, meanwhile, has played 27, 24 and 14 minutes in the past three games, scoring 3, 7 and 4 points in those contests.
Then there’s Turner, perhaps the most offensive-minded of the three guards. Turner has played 30, 26 and 17 minutes in the three-game win streak, scoring 11, 6 and 7 points, while dishing out 5, 1 and then no assists against Texas A&M.
“I do think our guys get it, (and) if they don’t they will find out real quick,” Barnes said. “We have a hard week ahead of us going to Missouri and South Carolina, two teams that defend and play really hard.”