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Next Up - Tennessee In The 2023 NCAA Tournament Round Of 32

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round-Oral Roberts vs Duke
Mar 16, 2023; Orlando, FL, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Dariq Whitehead (0) dribbles the ball during the second half against the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles at Amway Center. 
Russell Lansford-USA TODAY Sports

Duke enters Saturday’s Round of 32 game against Rick Barnes and Tennessee Saturday and that’s a tough draw (note to the NCAA and the media complex: can we please do better than Round of 32?)

Ever since we first became aware of Barnes at Clemson, we’ve realized that he likes a beefy roster. This year is no exception. Just take a gander down the roster:

  • Uro Plavsic - 7-1/265
  • Tobe Awaka - 6-8/250
  • Jonas Aidoo - 6-11/241
  • Colin Coyne - 6-9/239
  • Olivier Nkamhoua - 6-6/236

All things considered, if you can work it out, it’s better to play a Rick Barnes-coached team on the second day of a tournament weekend than the first.

Tennessee had a rough end of the season with a key injury and some frustrating losses. The Vols finished 4-6 after being very highly ranked for much of the season.

The last four of those games, minus three minutes, UT was without Zakai Zeigler. No matter who you are, losing your point guard is a huge blow.

Tennessee is an elite defensive team, as good on that end as anyone, but as we have seen with Barnes before, he doesn’t put a priority on finesse or creativity. Anyone remember the Slab Five?

It’s not the most aesthetically pleasing style but it is effective.

Against Louisiana, Barnes started Plavsic, Nkamhoua, Jahmai Mashack, a 6-4, 200 lb. senior, Santiago Vescovi, a 6-3 senior from Uruguay and 6-6, 224 lb. Josiah-Jordan James. If JJJ sounds familiar, it may be because he seriously considered Duke before choosing Tennessee.

For Duke, there are several challenges: first, deal with Tennessee’s physical style. Second, stay out of foul trouble and keep turnovers to a minimum. Third, be efficient offensively and fourth, don’t let Tennessee lull you into a bar fight.

And fifth, obviously, keep defending at an elite level yourselves.

One of the enduring ACC memories of Barnes at Clemson is his nearly coming to blows with Dean Smith during a game. It’s just how he is and how his teams have always been.

It’s not quite as bad as BennettBall, but it’s not pretty basketball.

Obviously Dereck Lively is going to be critical for Duke - Jeremy Roach called him “the backbone of our defense,” which is true, but he could have said backstop. One of the great things about having a gifted shotblocker on your team is that he allows the perimeter defenders to gamble because he can clean up mistakes.

Tennessee is going to go after him hard. They’ll try to bait him into fouls and into losing his composure too. He can’t fall for it.

They’ll try to get to Filipowski too, but that could be harder since he’s just about as big as their guys.

And of course Mark Mitchell and the perimeter players will catch it too. We’re not knocking it. It’s just that’s how Barnes coaches. We’ve seen enough of it over the year and it’s not going to change.

The question is how Duke will respond. Needless to say, a lights-out shooting performance will negate much of what Tennessee will try to do.

On a side note, this is the kind of game that Ryan Young will love - rough, physical inside play. It’s pretty much made for his style. Don’t be surprised if he plays a key role Saturday.