Rick Barnes shares concern after Tennessee no-shows in the SEC Tournament

Mississippi State plays spoiler with their 73-56 win over Tennessee in the SEC Tournament quarterfinal round.
SEC Basketball Tournament - Quarterfinals
SEC Basketball Tournament - Quarterfinals / Andy Lyons/GettyImages

Tennessee basketball didn't get to experience much of the SEC Tournament after their beating at the hands of Mississippi State. The Vols' 73-56 loss was unexpected yet repetitive from Tennessee's first loss to the Bulldogs earlier in the season.

For the second time this season, Mississippi State exposed Tennessee's weaknesses. This time, it comes ahead of the NCAA Tournament. The Vols' time in Nashville can quickly be summed up in this Simpsons GIF.

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It seemed like the Vols had everything in front of them before the Kentucky game. The Vols had won three straight games against ranked opponents, and then the Vols dropped their Senior Day matchup against Kentucky and now drop the ball against Mississippi State.

Rick Barnes is a great coach but is infamously known for being exposed throughout March. He knows how it feels to have great teams end their season early because they couldn't bring their best in March.

A lot of times, it comes down to which team wants to win more in March. The more desperate the team, the more physical the team, and the tougher team in any given game can take down the best teams in the country. Barnes' Vols can only afford one more loss before their season is over, and that's one thing Barnes focused on in the locker room post-game.

“Well, I told them, I said, Let’s just sit here and think about how we feel right now," Barnes said. "Let’s just talk about it, sit here and marinate in how you feel right now. If you feel like this again, it’s over. I want you to not forget right now what you did. This time of year you want to give it your best. You have to understand how hard it is to win this time of year. If you want to be a team that can play through three days and win a conference tournament, through six days and win a national championship, there’s got to be somewhat of a desperate mindset that every possession matters."

Barnes also acknowledged that his Vols did not play with the "want-to" his team needs to win in March. While this year's Tennessee basketball team is experienced and littered with veteran players, none of them understand what everyone needs to be successful in March.

"But we didn’t play with that type of mentality today. Really the first 20 minutes, I haven’t seen that team all year, even including practice. I’m sitting there watching it like, Man, maybe it might be good to get this out of our system. We haven’t had one like this where we didn’t respond better," Barnes explained.

When asked if he's worried this loss could affect the Vols' performance in the NCAA Tournament, Barnes expressed some concern but understood it takes a special group of players to make a deep run in March Madness.

"We are who we are right now," Barnes said in his post-game press conference. "We have a system that we believe in. It will go back to a mindset. That’s what I spent a lot of time talking to our team about, our mindset. Where is it? Where was it? Why was it like this today? Was our preparation different? It was. We’re an experienced team."

While Barnes and the Vols believe in the system and their ability and know they can deliver what is needed to compete for a national championship, the Vols' back-to-back losses have raised some concern. Even Barnes is acknowledging the issues.

“Yeah, I wouldn’t be truthful — I’m concerned. I don’t know if I’d say ‘worried’, but I’m always concerned about where we are, our mindset, what we’re thinking. Like I said, I’ve been doing it long enough to know I wish I had a crystal ball and look into it, know exactly."

Barnes also attributed some of the Vols' sluggish play to Tennessee's rhythm being thrown off by the unique conference tournament schedule.

“I thought what we did leading into this was good. Our rhythm gets broken a little bit. The season is over with, then you have a longer week. This is the longest time we had off since our open week."

Unfortunately, for Barnes and the Vols to go on a run later this month, Tennessee is going to have to thrive in the chaos and unique circumstances of tournament play, or it will be another quick exit for the Vols in the NCAA Tournament.

Next. Reactions to Mississippi State upsetting Vols in SEC Tournament. Reactions to Mississippi State upsetting Vols in SEC Tournament. dark

We will see where the Vols fall in the NCAA Tournament this Sunday and where they will play their first-round matchup. Here's a preview of where Tennessee could play in the first round. Until then, the Vols have to find their identity again. They have to get back to being physical and tough on both ends of the court, dominating down low, and it might take Dalton Knecht getting hot to lead the Vols on a deep run.