We’re officially less than 24 hours away from four-seed Tennessee taking on five-seed Duke in the 2023 NCAA Tournament’s second round of action.
Tennessee reached the second round of the East Region after surviving a ferocious comeback from 13-seed Louisiana on Thursday night in the opener. The Vols won that game by a score of 58-55. Duke, on the other hand, reached the second round by taking down 12-seed Oral Roberts handily.
Tennessee and Duke will square off at 2:40 p.m. ET on Saturday afternoon in Orlando’s Amway Center.
Check out RTI’s game predictions for the win-or-go-home contest below.
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Me on Wednesday’s Louisiana game predictions: “We’ll cross the potential Round 2 bridge when it comes, right?”
Me now: “Well, here’s the bridge.”
Talk about a marquee matchup in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Two marquee athletic programs across not just the south, but the entire country as a whole. Two instantly recognizable brands going head-to-head on the court with a coveted spot in the Sweet 16 – and New York City’s Madison Square Garden – on the line.
It’s fascinating that Tennessee was victorious with Josiah-Jordan James and Santiago Vescovi combining for just 11 points in the win over Louisiana. Tennessee found some help thanks to role players such as Tyreke Key and Jahmai Mashack throughout the game. But with a matchup against Duke on the horizon, Tennessee needs their stars to be stars, too. Despite some solid takeaways in the Louisiana game, Tennessee is going to have to be more productive offensively to take down Duke, truly one of the hottest teams in the country at the moment.
Duke and Tennessee will combine for size on the court. Not only does Duke have the tallest team on average in the tournament, but Duke head coach Jon Scheyer also acknowledged that due to Tennessee’s unfortunate injury to Zakai Zeigler, the Vols are a much bigger team in his absence. Where Tennessee’s athleticism and size were an advantage over Louisiana, I see that being much more evenly matched against the Blue Devils.
I’m picking Duke for this game. Just a gut feeling, really. Tennessee has a lot of fight in them, and that’s what March is about. Could the Vols win against Duke? Certainly. Tennessee has a long, physical defense and a few players that can get hot shooting the ball. Look at me, hedging my bets. Either way, I see Duke winning this game more often than I see Tennessee winning. Should be a fun one in the Orlando Magic’s arena on Saturday afternoon. Ryan and I will be headed back to Knoxville on Sunday with plenty to talk about no matter the outcome.
Prediction: Duke 68, Tennessee 63
Prediction: Duke 72, Tennessee 64
Tennessee got the unfortunate luck of getting Duke, by far the best five-seed entering the tournament, in their region.
Duke looked very impressive in a blowout win over Oral Roberts, displaying elite defense out of the gate. Given what we saw from the Blue Devils defense, and knowing Tennessee’s defense, this game has the chance to be a low-scoring affair.
The Vols are not a team that gets blown out. They play too well defensively. But as we saw late Thursday night, the offense continues to struggle. Without Zakai Zeigler, the Vols have become very limited. And they’re severely limited if Santiago Vescovi gets in early foul trouble. That can’t happen against Duke. Tennessee needs Vescovi on the floor as much as possible due to Duke’s elite interior defense.
Tobe Awaka will be key in this game for Tennessee. He hasn’t faced many teams like Duke, but if he can continue to excel at getting offensive boards, the Vols have a shot.
But ultimately, I don’t see Tennessee doing enough damage offensively to get over the hump.
The Vols fall in the Round of 32 once again.
Prediction: Duke 66, Tennessee 58