The current Tennessee basketball team has no previous years experience to draw from when it comes to playing in the NCAA Tournament. When No. 3-seed Tennessee opens against No. 14-seeded Wright State on Thursday in Dallas, Texas it will be a first-time experience for everyone in a Vol uniform.
With that in mind, head coach Rick Barnes' message to his team during their preparation for the Big Dance is simply about trusting the process.
“You talk about one game,” Barnes said. “You talk about what's in front of you. That's all you have got. We will get together tonight for the first time. We had hoped to give them today off but because we have to play early on Thursday we can't do that now.
"We won't do much with them, but we will get together and explain to them that this is no different then us getting together and going to a tournament that we have been in. The difference is you win or you go home. They understand that. They do. We will talk about Wright State and that will be it.”
Despite his team's youthfulness — both in actual age and postseason experience — Barnes hopes and believes the schedule his program played will help this week. Tennessee played over a dozen teams that made the NCAA Tournament.
“We tried to schedule as hard as we could,” Barnes said. “You think about Lipscomb and Furman. We scrimmaged Davidson. We went to Clemson and had a scrimmage. Everything we have done has been to try and prepare and see different styles. Really, we an over analyze all of this. Right now anyone that is in this tournament they can play. If you are not ready to play and play up to your ability you can get hurt by it obviously. What we will talk about is what we have done.
"We are not going to go in and act like this is the end of the world, we are going to change everything we have done. We are going to stick with the process we have gone though and hope we are right on it.”
Still, there's newness in this week. A short turnaround for travel. The earliest tip-off of the year. All things that an young team will face for the first time.
However, Barnes believes his teams experience in St. Louis over the weekend is something they will learn from greatly.
“The first round game against Mississippi State was a tough game. We didn't play great. I thought everything that goes with the SEC Tournament, the big stage and all if that I didn't think we handled that well the first day and I didn't think we handled it well to start the game yesterday,” Barnes said.
“Again this is a new experience for these guys. They are doing all of this for the first time. The fact is we will learn a lot from this past weekend I think in terms of tournament basketball because each game was different and each situation was different.”
But for the veteran coach, this week is old hat. He and his staff have made this journey before. Thursday's game will be Barnes' 23rd season playing in the NCAA Tournament. A journey that Barnes believes just comes down to playing the game.
“We are in it,” Barnes said. “It's a totally new experience for this entire team. They have never been a part of it. Not one guy on the roster has been a part of the NCAA tournament but everything we have done with the schedule from the very beginning starting three years ago till now has gotten us to this point. Now we have to go out and play basketball because this is what it's all about right now.”