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Does Tennessee Have a Rick Barnes Problem?

I don't even know what word I'd use to summarize this Tennessee basketball season that could adequately express my feelings. "Infuriating" is even putting it far too mildly, but it's something along those lines.

Once again on Wednesday, Tennessee played a team which it was probably more talented than and trailed by 13 at halftime, before cut the lead to just two in the second half and having it all be for naught in an eventual 17-point loss. This season has unfortunately been full of many games which were the same song, different verse. The Vols have had games in which they went toe-to-toe with Kansas, Florida State, Kentucky and Auburn and games in which they've played like 10 pounds of shit in a five-pound bucket.

And contrary to what the Rick Barnes sunshine pumpers would have you believe, this team has talent. John Fulkerson is going to be an All-SEC performer this year. Yves Pons is an NBA prospect. Santiago Vescovi is going to be a star in the SEC for years to come. And Josiah-Jordan James played in the McDonald's All-American Game last year.

Tennessee, by any reasonable measure, should be an NCAA Tournament team. And it isn't.

There's really only one explanation for a team with the ceiling the Volunteers have being as wildly inconsistent as they have been, and it starts at the top. There has to be someone to take accountability for what can only be considered a pretty colossal failure, and I tend to look more towards the $5 million per year head coach than the 18-year-old kids.

And let me say how much I love Rick Barnes. I think he's an incredible role model for his players and a great man who has developed many players into NBA stars as well as setting an admirable example for them to become great men. But at some point, it would be ignorant to not look at what has happened everywhere Barnes has been and the plateaus his teams have eventually hit.

I did a little research into Barnes's numbers with the Vols with and without two-time SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams as compared to Butch Jones's tenure with and without Josh Dobbs, and the results were pretty stunning.

There's obviously a plethora of other factors for both coaches than just their records in regards to those individual players, but it certainly does present something to think about.

I want Barnes to turn this thing around next season. I want more than anything for Jaden Springer, Keon Johnson and Corey Walker to come in and be the players most recruiting analysts and Tennessee fans think they're going to be. But again, I think it would be naive to ignore the similar expectations Josiah-Jordan James had coming into this season and the stunning lack of production which he has produced, particularly in conference play.

Barnes did an incredible job of taking Tennessee from where it was when he arrived all the way to the No. 1 spot in the country. But it's taken a big step back, and it's up to him to fix it again.