Saturday was the matchup that Head Coach Rick Barnes and his Volunteers knew they would have an opportunity to knock the Duke Blue Devils out of the 2023 NCAA Tournament and advance to the Sweet 16 of the East Regional. Everybody knew Tennessee would have to throw the first punches on Saturday if they wanted a chance to continue dancing by beating the ACC Tournament Champion en route to the Sweet 16.
Despite being a menace to Tennessee, Duke failed to match the physicality and intensity brought to the court by the Volunteers on Saturday. Tennessee even had a point where they went up for a rebound, and in the process of coming down with the board, a Duke player got a gash under his eye and had to be attended to by the Duke medical staff. It was almost as if Tennessee smelled blood in the water from the Blue Devils because the Volunteers would continue their assault on Duke.
Although Duke would not go quietly, every time Tennessee needed a basket to silence the Blue Devil supporters, Tennessee would get one. Credit to Head Coach Rick Barnes for having his Volunteers ready to compete and earn a bid in the Sweet 16. Unlike others, as we have seen in the ACC and NCAA Tournament, Tennessee was not to be messed with when it came to Duke.
For Duke, the Blue Devils had not seen a physical team like Tennessee all season, as they had no answer for Tennessee throwing haymakers and earning the win on Saturday. Back in the day, the ACC would have prepared them for the matchup against Tennessee on Saturday, but given the weakness of the ACC, one should be prepared to watch Duke get banged around by the mighty Volunteers.
For those who hate the Southeastern Conference for the lack of basketball history, what now? Tennessee finished 5th in the Southeastern Conference, and now the Volunteers shut down the ACC Tournament Champion. Tennessee dominated Duke. What a win for Rick Barnes, Tennessee Basketball, and the Southeastern Conference.
Tennessee will now await the winner of Florida Atlantic and FDU in the Sweet 16 to be played at Madison Square Garden.