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Tennessee turns to rival for potential help at point guard with Antonio Barton

Tennessee turns to rival for potential help at point guard with Antonio Barton

Now that the soap opera aspect of the Trae Golden/University of Tennessee issue has subsided a bit, the focus can begin to shift from the shades-drawn, locked offices (allegedly) back to the hardwood.

The enrollment of 5-star recruit Robert Hubbs combined with a veteran-laden team has the fan base’s expectations exceeding a mere tournament appearance. Heading into his third season, the pressure was already on Cuonzo Martin.

Then came the announcement that starting point guard Trae Golden would not be returning for the 2013-2014 season due to an apparent rift with Coach Martin, and the pressure immediately doubled. People were dumbfounded that Martin would be arrogant enough to run off his main ball handler. The truth has yet to fully come out, but we have learned that there was more to the story.

The  dismissal/transfer/witness-protection relocation provided a lot of Volunteer fans an opportunity to pull out their patented “woe is me” routine and ask why the sky was once again falling on their beloved program. As if the wounds of losing out on Swiperboy’s music and “The Barbeque” weren’t bad enough, being left on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament two years in a row had the Big Orange faithful a little more empathetic than usual.

Truth be told, Golden spent the entire season in the role of the scapegoat when the team struggled. Yet, all of the sudden, fans and media alike were reacting as if the second coming of Chris Lofton was unfairly kicked off of the team; as if any chance of a winning season was bouncing out with him. I was truly flabbergasted with the response.

Trae Golden was the barometer of the the team during their stretch run; the Vols won 9 of their last 11 games. In the two losses, at Georgia and in the SEC Tournament to Alabama, Golden shot a combined 2-17 and scored six total points, and  Coach Martin was not shy with his statements in regards to the team only going as far as Trae would carry them. I am sure you do not need a reminder, but the Vols wound up in the NIT.

The undersized scoring guard trapped in a point guard’s body shot less than 40% from the field during his junior season. What’s more, he was just 29.5% from behind the arc, down from 39% the year before. However, the most problematic number to me was the 9.4 shot attempts per game. That may be fine and necessary for an undermanned team, but it is likely detrimental to a talented team with championship aspirations… (chill out, I’m only talking about the SEC championship).

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With Maymon, McRae and Stokes all returning, and with a player as talented as Hubbs looking to emerge, the Volunteers need a point guard whose primary goal is sharing the rock. Not shooting it.

It’s like they say: the same thing that makes you laugh can make you cry.

Wait. That’s not the cliché I was looking for. Hold on.

Too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Too many cooks in the kitchen. Too many Michaels and not enough Titos.

(Get it? Like the Jackson 5)

Trae’s game had passed the point of no return.

It’s like my dad always told me: you give a man too much rope, soon he’ll start thinkin’ he’s a cowboy.

Yes, that is relevant. Because Golden’s shot so much you’d have thought he was from the wild-wild west. (See what I did there?) And, I’m sorry, but most gun-slinging cowboys don’t magically turn into dime-dropping wizards with the blink of an eye.

 Vols Look to Fill Void

Regardless of what your opinion of Golden was, the issue still remains as to who will bring the ball up the court and run the offense for the Volunteers. Left in the cupboard is the talented Freshman Darius Thompson as the only true point guard.

(US Presswire)

(US Presswire)

That could change this Sunday when upcoming senior and Memphis transfer Antonio Barton announces where he will play his final season. The list has been narrowed to four: Kansas State, Texas A&M, Maryland, and Tennessee. However, the belief is that it will really come down to either Maryland or Tennessee.

Barton is from Baltimore and has a four-year-old daughter that currently lives with his family there. The proximity will be a factor without a doubt, but if his decision is strictly basketball-based, the Vols have the upper hand. The Maryland Terps currently have zero seniors returning to the team on scholarship whereas Tennessee could easily be ranked in the preseason top 15.

Should Barton decide to transfer to the good side of the state, he immediately solidifies the only hole on Coach Martin’s roster. A veteran that has experienced the NCAA tournament, albeit predominantly as a freshman, is a valuable commodity in college basketball.

(Barton scored 17 points in 35 minutes his freshman season with Memphis but went scoreless his sophomore and junior seasons in only eight minutes of action total in three tournament games)

Despite his reduced role this season, Antonio Barton left an impression on the Tennessee coaching in 2011-12.

In his two outings against the Vols, Barton was 13-19 from the field, including 8-10 from deep, all of which translated to 40 points and a couple of Ws.

However, if you paid attention, you would know that Tennessee is not necessarily desperate for a scoring point guard, but rather a facilitator. Can Barton provide that? That is yet to be seen. His career high in assists in a game is five with a bushel of fours sprinkled throughout.

But seriously, have you watched a Memphis Tigers basketball game? Passing is not exactly their forte. Five assists under Josh Pastner might as well be ten.

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The six-foot-two guard has shown promise when given playing time, but the question must be asked as to why he fell out of favor in Memphis. Was it merely the emergence of his back-court mates Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, and Geron Johnson or was there an underlying issue? Has Antonio simply regressed since his older brother Will left the program for the NBA?

Time will tell.

Should Tennessee fans be that concerned about getting Barton, who, in his diminished role, averaged 5.6 points and only 1.1 assists in 16.7 minutes last season?

I say yes.

If he chooses to stay close to home and plays for Maryland, do I believe that the 2013-14 campaign is ruined for the basketball Vols?

Not at all.

I think Darius Thompson is talented enough to learn on the fly — especially given the talent he’ll be surrounded by. He’s the point guard of the future and his development is vital to the long-term health of the Tennessee program.

With that being said, I’m sure Cuonzo Martin would really, really like to have a senior point guard on the roster to drive the team rather than handing the keys to a true freshman.

I’m just asking that neither one of them finds themselves in the nurse’s office or locked in a janitorial closet with some administrator receiving “tutoring.”


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