1st March Madness meeting for Duke, Tennessee in East Region
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Jon Scheyer once considered playing for Rick Barnes at Texas. Scheyer visited the Austin campus and toured the basketball facilities back in 2005 and even had a scholarship offer to join the Longhorns.
“If I knew Kevin Durant was going there, I think I would have looked a little harder at it,” Scheyer said.
It didn’t pan out, obviously. Scheyer landed at Duke, where he played and worked under Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski. Barnes spent the next 10 years at Texas — with little NCAA Tournament success — before taking over at Tennessee.
Now, nearly two decades later, the 35-year-old Scheyer and the 68-year-old Barnes will square off in the second round of the NCAA Tournament when the fifth-seeded Blue Devils (27-8) play No. 4 Tennessee (24-10) in the East Region on Saturday. It’s the lone game in the East that day.
It’s also the first NCAA Tournament matchup for two power programs with vastly different postseason resumes.
Duke has made 45 appearances in the Big Dance, winning it all five times and getting to the Final Four 17 times. Tennessee is 1-7 in the Sweet 16 and has never reached the Final Four.
The winner will advance to the regional semifinals in New York.
“I think Jon could have gone anywhere he wanted to go, and he obviously picked Duke,” Barnes said. “And it’s worked out well for him. ... Always tough to follow what Mike did there. But Jon really has done a great job with this team.”
Duke, the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament champion, has won 10 in a row and dominated Oral Roberts in the opening round Thursday. Much of the team’s success has come since Scheyer moved Tyrese Proctor to point guard and freed up Jeremy Roach to play more in space.
It also might be a coming-of-age story for a team that starts four freshmen: Proctor, Dereck Lively II, Mark Mitchell and Kyle Filipowski. Duke’s turnaround started with a humbling loss at Miami in early February.
“That was kind of a make-or-break moment for us in the season,” center Ryan Young said. “Could have gone a number of different ways. I was super proud of the way we came together and became more connected as a group.”
Tennessee dropped six of its previous 10 games before holding off Louisiana-Lafayette in the opening round. The Volunteers didn’t do much right offensively, but they ratcheted up their defense down the stretch.
The main improvement Barnes would like to see is reducing turnovers. The Vols had 18 against Louisiana, their second most this season and most since late November. It’s a product of being without point guard Zakai Zeigler, who tore a knee ligament late last month.
“At this time of year, that’s probably the hardest position to overcome because of what his value is to us,” Barnes said. “We miss him, and he knows that. But we just said, ‘Hey, someone else is going to have to pick up some slack and more guys are going to have to contribute.’”
The game will be a reunion for Tennessee’s Santiago Vescovi and Duke’s Tyrese Proctor. They overlapped in 2019 at the NBA Global Academy, an elite training center in Canberra, Australia.
“I was surprised with him and a couple of other players younger than we were at that time how talented they were,” Vescovi said.
The Blue Devils are playing on former Duke star Paolo Banchero’s home court. Banchero was the top pick in last summer’s NBA draft. He’s averaging 20.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.6 rebounds for the Orlando Magic.
Scheyer had hoped to connect with Banchero, but it hasn’t worked out with the Magic wrapping up a West Coast trip.
“I know they had a tough one the other night,” Scheyer said. “But it’s all love, I can tell you that much.”
Tennessee and Duke last played in the 2011 Maul Invitational, where the Blue Devils won 77-67. The teams have met just 15 times previously — Duke leads 8-7 — but just one of those came in the postseason. Duke topped the Vols 78-64 in the 1971 National Invitation Tournament.
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