Don't pick Tennessee basketball, Rick Barnes to go too far in your March Madness bracket | Adams

John Adams
Knoxville News Sentinel

A sport will make its seasonal debut this week. It’s called NCAA Tournament basketball.

And it’s not to be confused with regular-season college basketball. That’s more of a niche sport. The NCAA Tournament is for everybody.

People who haven’t watched a game all season will fill out a tournament bracket. They might not can name more than two starters on any team in the tournament but still will pick the outcomes of games with either great confidence or a sense that for some inexplicable reason luck is on their side.

Some pickers are savvy enough about the tournament to pick a No. 12 seed to beat a No. 5 seed in the first round. They know that happens a lot. Others will make their picks based on colors and mascots.

And any of them with the slightest familiarity of tournament history won’t pick Tennessee to advance beyond the Sweet 16.

Tennessee coach Rick Barnes has a long history of tournament flops, dating back to his 17 seasons at Texas and continuing through his eight seasons with the Vols.

In Barnes’ last seven seasons at Texas, his teams didn’t reach the Sweet 16. His previous seven seasons at Tennessee include four NCAA Tournaments. Only one of those teams made it to the Sweet 16.

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Tennessee’s NCAA Tournament history is less impressive than Barnes’, who at least made one Final Four at Texas. The Vols never have reached the Final Four and have only one Elite Eight on their resume.

So, if you’re looking for a dark-horse pick to distinguish your bracket from the competition, you would be better off basing your choice on an affinity for a mascot than the Vols.

If the Vols come up short in this tournament, Barnes’ critics will multiply, especially since he has become one of the highest paid coaches in the country while at Tennessee. And unlike last season, when the Vols won the SEC Tournament, they bowed out in the tournament quarterfinals on Friday with a 79-71 loss to Missouri.

March Madness matters. You can’t ignore that in evaluating a coach. But it’s not the only measuring stick.

Barnes has won well over 700 games. And he has won wherever he has been. Everywhere includes George Mason, Providence and Clemson before he was hired by Texas.

Also, consider what was going on with Tennessee basketball before Barnes stepped in. The program had declined since Bruce Pearl took the Vols to six consecutive NCAA tournaments. Cuonzo Martin made one tournament in three seasons before leaving for Cal. Donnie Tyndall lasted only one season – in which he lost as much as he won – before he was overtaken by the NCAA’s posse.

Barnes had the Vols back in the NCAA Tournament by Year 3 with a 26-win team. He has since had 31- and 27-win seasons. Tennessee also ranks among NCAA attendance leaders on Barnes’ watch.

All of that will ring hollow if the Vols tumble off the bracket sooner than their seeding would suggest.

Their fans should be prepared for tournament disappointment by now. It’s their history.

History can change, though.

Tennessee fans who want to be hopeful should keep telling themselves, “We’re due.” That’s a fact. They are due.

They also were due for a successful tournament run last season when they lost to Michigan in the second round.

But as passionate as Tennessee fans are about their teams, recent history won't prevent some of them from predicting a postseason surge from the Vols. They will fill out their brackets accordingly.

I would recommend they also pick a couple of long shots with attractive mascots – just in case.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or Follow him at: