The Tennessee Volunteers are 9-1 in their coronavirus-delayed basketball season and remain No. 3 nationally in the NET rankings behind Gonzaga and Baylor, but COVID-19 very much remains in the picture.
That's reflected by three rounds of COVID-19 testing this week and two games against Vanderbilt. The first of those contests against the Commodores takes place Tuesday in Nashville (7 EST on ESPN2) and is the result of the originally scheduled matchups of Tennessee-South Carolina and Missouri-Vanderbilt having to be postponed due to COVID-related issues with Frank Martin's Gamecocks and Cuonzo Martin's Tigers.
Tennessee and Vanderbilt will play again as scheduled Saturday night in Thompson-Boling Arena.
"I don't think I've ever played a team back-to-back," Vols coach Rick Barnes said Monday. "If we have, I don't remember it. We understand it — when cancellations start happening that we're going to have these kind of situations."
Tennessee battled a coronavirus outbreak before the season that included Barnes testing positive, and it resulted in the cancellations of games against Charlotte, VCU, Gonzaga, Notre Dame and UT-Martin. Within the Southeastern Conference, four teams — Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn and Mississippi State — have already played 12 games.
South Carolina, however, is just 3-2 overall and 1-0 in league play.
"I know what we felt like when we had to sit and watch teams play at the beginning of the year," Barnes said, "and in some ways that would be better than getting to play a few games and then get shut down. That's tough. I hate it for Frank and Cuonzo as well as their teams, because these guys are wanting to play basketball, but we know that we have to protect them the best way that we can."
There were 44 Division I men's programs that were on pause Monday, including Clemson and Georgia Tech out of the Atlantic Coast Conference, and ETSU, Mercer, VMI and Western Carolina out of the Southern Conference.
In addition to testing three times a week, Barnes said the Vols continue to implement as many protective spacing measures as possible. That includes the two team buses that left Monday for Nashville.
When asked if he gets nervous while awaiting COVID testing, Barnes said, "I probably don't so much, because what it's going to be is what it's going to be. We get the texts, negative or positive, and we're testing everybody. The bus drivers. Everybody. It's something you can't worry about, but you're always concerned about it because it falls back on the safety of your people."
With the SEC among the numerous leagues postponing and rescheduling games, there are already questions concerning whether the conference can stage its tournament in Nashville or whether that week would be used for making up contests.
"I don't know if I can say I am confident about anything beyond today," Barnes said. "It will be different, and obviously teams aren't going to get there early. We knew that we would have some stoppage along the way, and I thought our football season worked through it the best way they could.
"They played the SEC championship game, and I would like to think that if there is any possibility at all, we will play a conference tournament."
Barnes said Monday that he expects senior forward E.J. Anosike, the graduate transfer from Sacred Heart, to use the NCAA's extra year of eligibility because of the coronavirus and return next season.
"I don't think there's any question he will," Barnes said. "I think it's going to be good for him."
Anosike has played in all 10 games this season, averaging 3.2 points, 3.1 rebounds and 11.8 minutes per contest.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.