What’s next for the Tennessee basketball program after another early exit from the NCAA Tournament?

Indianapolis, Indiana:

Friday afternoon felt like a broken record player for the Tennessee Volunteers basketball program after an early-round defeat to Oregon State. No matter the amount of talent this program has had in years past, Tennessee still struggles to advance in the NCAA Tournament.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MARCH 19: Head coach Rick Barnes of the Tennessee Volunteers reacts to a call in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament against the Oregon State Beavers held at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 19, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jack Dempsey/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

Sure, the Volunteers were without John Fulkerson in the matchup with Oregon State, but Tennessee got dominated from the opening tip to the closing buzzer. It was ugly, and there’s not much you can say about this program heading into the future that isn’t negative.

So, let’s talk about it. Where exactly does Tennessee basketball go from here? Is Head Coach Rick Barnes on the hot seat next season? Will the Big Orange ever win an SEC Tournament Championship or reach the Final Four?

Let’s start with Head Coach Rick Barnes and his future with the Tennessee Volunteers basketball program. Rick Barnes has been with Tennessee for six seasons. He’s been to three NCAA Tournaments, won an SEC regular-season title, and has been to a few SEC Tournament Championship games. Understandably, Volunteer fans are starting to get a bit anxious with his postseason coaching abilities. Given the talent he’s had in those six seasons as the Head Coach at Tennessee, one would agree that he should have more postseason success on Rocky Top. With that being said, Coach Barnes took over a program that had fallen on hard times after the departure of Bruce Pearl, and has turned into a competitive program.

When you look at it from that perspective, Rick Barnes deserves at least one more season to turn Tennessee basketball into a Final Four program. Like any coach, Rick Barnes has his flaws, which were evident in the loss to Oregon State on Friday afternoon. With Covid and everything else going on, it’s only fair to Rick Barnes to give him a grace card this season and hold him to that standard in 2021-2022.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MARCH 19: Keon Johnson #45 of the Tennessee Volunteers reacts to a foul called against him in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament held against the Oregon State Beavers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 19, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jack Dempsey/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

Will the Big Orange ever make it to the Final Four or win an SEC Tournament? In due time, Tennessee is a sleeping giant of a program. Tennessee has always been so close to finishing. It’s only a matter of time before the Volunteers breakthrough and advance to a Final Four and win the SEC Tournament. When that happens, Tennessee will be thankful for the climb that brought them there.

As far as the future of this program? It’s tough to say, Tennessee finds itself at a crossroads right now. On one side of this, you have the excitement of the best recruiting class in program history coming in next season. An incoming recruiting class that many say could change Tennessee basketball forever. However, Tennessee fans have heard that before, but with no reward. Next season will be the tell-tell sign for the Volunteer faithful in regards to the future of this program.

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