Possessing plenty of size itself, Duke nevertheless faces a challenge in both physicality and experience on its quest to advance out of the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend.
Tennessee, the East Region’s No. 4 seed, will present the No. 5 Blue Devils with a bevy of big men who are also older than Duke’s two freshmen big men.
Duke (27-8) has consistently started 7-1, 230-pound Dereck Lively and 7-0, 236-pound Kyle Filipowski, along with 6-8, 220-pound freshman forward Mark Mitchell, during the 10-game winning streak it carries into Saturday’s 2:40 p.m. second-round game at Amway Center.
The Volunteers (24-10) counter with players who are big and old — 7-1, 265-pound senior Uros Plavsic and 6-9, 236-pound senior Olivier Nkamhoua. Off the bench, Tennessee uses 6-11, 241-pound sophomore Jonas Aidoo.
“They’ve played a really tough schedule this year,” Duke coach Jon Scheyer said of Tennessee. “They’ve been battle-tested. They’re experienced. They have great size.”
That’s normally what opponents say about the Blue Devils. Duke is No. 8 nationally in securing offensive rebounds, as Lively, Filipowski and their teammates have rebounded 36.3% of the team’s missed shots, according to KenPom.com.
But Tennessee is a bit better at No. 6, having turned 36.5% of its missed shots into offensive rebounds and second-chance scoring opportunities.
“We know they are going to come to the glass,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “They know we’re going to come to the glass. So I expect that to be a big part of the game.”
Lively grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked six shots in Duke’s 74-51 blowout win over 12th-seeded Oral Roberts in Thursday’s first round. Filipowski, after vomiting into a trash can behind the bench during the game’s early minutes due to what he called “bad hotel food,” finished with nine rebounds.
Their ability to stay out of foul trouble will be a key factor Saturday in who advances to the East Region semifinals in New York next week.
“They’re going to be a physical team,” Lively said. “That’s something we’re not new to. We’ve have to be able to stay poised. Don’t get punched first. We try to throw the first punch and make sure that we try to knock them back before they try to knock us back.”
Though the Vols are without starting point guard Zakai Zeigler, who is out with a torn ACL he suffered last month, they still have experience with 6-3 senior Santiago Vescovi (12.6 points, 4.5 rebounds per game).
But Duke has unique insight into his game.
Blue Devils freshman point guard Tyrese Proctor and Vescovi were roommates briefly in 2019, when they attended the NBA Global Academy in Australia.
“I’m pretty familiar with his game,” the 18-year-old Proctor said Friday. “He’s obviously gotten a lot better. But just the role that he’s taken as a player coming in and having an impact at Tennessee straight away stood out to me.”
Now 21, Vescovi enrolled at Tennessee in January 2020, but has kept up with Proctor’s game.
“We had a great time together, to be honest,” said Vescovi, who is from Uruguay. “I remember leaving the academy and being surprised with him and a couple players younger than we were at the time, how talented they were. I think he’s a great player all around.”