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ESPN Analyst, Duke Alum Criticizes Officiating In Tennessee’s Victory Over The Blue Devils

Jay Bilas ESPN Tennessee Duke
ESPN’s College GameDay host Jay Bilas from Knoxville. Photo by Ric Butler/Rocky Top Insider.

Tennessee basketball executed its game plan in its Round of 32 matchup against Duke flawlessly. The Vols played physically and took the Blue Devils down in the mud on their way to a 65-52 victory.

Associate head coach Justin Gainey did a great job on the scouting report and Tennessee executed the game plan well to deliver head coach Rick Barnes one of the best wins in his coaching career.

Jay Bilas joined the Colin Cowherd Podcast Sunday night to discuss the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament when Cowherd used Tennessee’s defensive performance as an example of how college basketball is a more defensive game now.

Bilas started his answer by giving his take on the skill level and experience of players in today’s college game.

“I think the players now are more skilled than they were 30 years ago. I don’t even think it’s close. Now, do we have the four year superstars we had back then? No because the true superstars leave early. But these guys are way more skilled than back in the day. They can shoot it. They can do everything. The game is way more physical now. It’s ridiculous.”

The former Duke starter who was one of Mike Krzyzewski first major recruits, offered an abundance of criticism for the officiating in the Vols’ Round of 32 victory over his alma mater.

“That Tennessee-Duke game that your referencing, that was not a basketball game. It was a hockey game. It was officiated like a hockey game,” Bilas said. “There were fouls that were flagrant fouls that were not called flagrant. I can’t understand why. I’ve talked to several officials about it and all of them seem to agree that that should not have happened that way, but we’re seeing that more-and-more.”

Bilas isn’t the only one national media pundit to criticize the way Tennessee was able to defend Duke. Others have called the Vols’ dirty for how they play and while Bilas doesn’t say that, he at least tiptoes around it by saying Tennessee committed flagrant fouls that weren’t called.

More From RTI: Everything Rick Barnes Said Monday Ahead Of The Sweet 16

Asked about the notion Tennessee is dirty Monday, Barnes didn’t get too deep in the weeds while defending his team.

“I don’t put any thought into it,” Barnes said. “I haven’t heard (it), not really. I think playing good, hard basketball, it’s not something nice to look at. I know our guys played hard. I know Duke played hard, too. Again, I’m on the Rules Committee and the referees did what they thought was right. And I thought they officiated the game the way they felt it went. But from our perspective, I didn’t see anything dirty from either team.”

Barnes didn’t address Bilas quote directly but did weigh in on the two early Uros Plavsic fouls that received the bulk of the criticism aimed Tennessee’s way.

“After watching the tape, the first two fouls, it wasn’t flagrant,” Barnes said. “At the time, even our team, we just wanted to play basketball. That’s who he is, that’s his emotion with it. But we need him.”

Defensive intensity and physicality has become the backbone of Tennessee’s program in recent years. The Vols have ranked in the top five of KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency the last three years and rank first this year. Tennessee certainly plays a physical brand of basketball but it is a common style in the SEC and one that hasn’t received much criticism before the Vols’ victory over Duke.

“You know, when you use the word physicality — we’re strong, we’ve got length now with Zakai (Zeigler) being out because you can put a guy in like Jahmai Mashack that’s almost 200 pounds and taller,” Barnes said. “And Tyreke Key. And Santi (Vescovi). Those guys, they work hard and they play hard. Teams run such good offense, if you’re not willing to try to keep up and get through screens the best you can, you’re going to give up shots.

Is physicality fouling? We don’t want to foul. I can tell you that. We don’t want teams parading to the line on us, but we are an older, stronger team with big guys. You’d have to define physicality in terms of how do we use it. I would say what I was trying to say earlier, we’re trying to play as hard as we can play. If that’s being physical, I guess we’re going to be physical.”

Tennessee will lean on its defense heavily again this weekend when it heads to Madison Square Garden to face Florida Atlantic in the Sweet 16. Tip-off is at approximately 9 p.m. ET Thursday night.

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49 Responses

  1. I was watching a football scrimmage on a basketball court watching Tennessee vs tech. It was fierce down right awful. Those officials should be made to view the game to see how many fouls they missed.

  2. The play where the Duke’s player’s cheek was cut should have been a foul on Duke! I watched the slo-mo replay: Uros Plavcic is up higher with both hands on the ball when the Duke player reaches up through his arms and even hooks his arm around Uros’. That’s a foul! So if he got hurt trying to cheat- well, sorry. It’s his fault.
    And Vescovi did not swing and hit his opponent’s face with the ball. Again- the replay showed it! The Duke player took a fall just like the faking soccer players do all the time.

  3. To paraphrase Charles Barkley talking about the game and Duke’s two “guaranteed 1st rounders”;
    “Welcome to the NBA!”

  4. How come some ref call a flagrant 1 foul even though inadvertent for anything shoulder high and about when other don’t? It seem like a double standard is set. When there is injury to the face seem like a fragrant foul too me even when unintentional.

  5. Jay it seems Evident you are a x Duke player. It is a shame you use the platform you have now to put down other teams. Duke lost Swallow it and do your job which is not Whining. Suck it up buttercup

  6. It was shameful how the players from Tennessee played. They – from the beginning of game – they made a conscious attempt to foul hard and high. The forward from Duke who got cut – was a clear attempt to intimate the Duke team. Shameful basketball. I guess that is why that coach and his teams have never been able to win (even with Kevin Durant). Just terrible that NCAA would allow for that behavior.

  7. I’ve heard all the crying people , believe it or not basketball is physical.. if you don’t like it .. we’ll go home. Oh yeah that’s right you are !!!

  8. Cry me a river Bilas! Duke and their former foul-mouthed coach got calls in their favor for decades. Deal with it, Duke lost.

  9. Jay, maybe you should get into calling swimming events, jazzercize……..maybe.

  10. Now Duke knows how it feels when they get a dose of their own medicine. That’s the way they played against Carolina when coach K was there. Boo Hoo. Poor Duke.

  11. I agree that those first 2 fouls on Plavsic were not flagrant, but they were obvious fouls. The problem is that the refs should have continued to call fouls until the fouls stopped or the entire team fouled out. I can assure you it would have been the former. Those particular refs should not work another game until they are better trained.

    Allowing Tennessee to grab, hold and push opponents to restrict their freedom of movement was an abdication of the refs duty. The NCAA needs to get on top of this now, before every other team that can’t keep up in terms of skill and talent resorts to the same type of thuggery on the court.

    Basketball is a truly beautiful game. What we saw Saturday was “Mudball”.

  12. Funny how the Duke fans cry foul when they are handled physically. But when UNC only shoots 3 free throws in a game against them and many obvious fouls aren’t called, the same fans praise the officiating.

  13. Aidoo ws the guy Flopkowski was battling with on the play his eye got hure.
    Flopkowski actually did a hook and hold on him yet they called the Phantom call on Vescovi

  14. That’s why a large percentage of the population don’t like Duke. Jay Bilas is always crying for rules changes. They changed a bunch of rules years back. As I remember, the game was so unwatchable because there was a whistle every 5 seconds. Everybody knows when you play Duke, you play them and the refs. Duke always has a far larger free throw attempt advantage than the other teams they play. Jay, you are wrong! All this to me is Duke men’s basketball is prevledged with a horrible since of entitlement. If this wasn’t Duke that lost, Jay wouldn’t have said nothing like what he is saying now.

  15. As Barnes himself said, “it’s not something nice to look at.” Low scoring games with no offensive flow- this isn’t tolerated in the NBA. Twenty years ago the college game was more fun to watch- now we get rugby at the college level and better basketball at the pro level. No wonder the kids want to go pro as soon as possible. With NIL it isn’t just the money, it is the style of play.

  16. Duke,
    I’m sorry you’re upset about the loss. Tennessee is a very physical team, but, simply put, this contest was one of “men versus boys”. Sometimes “One and Done” just can’t “Get It Done”.
    Vol Nation

  17. Many other independent analysts also agreed that the officiating in that game was substandard. Missed calls and inconsistent applications on both ends of the court. I don’t expect that the officiating crew that did that game will be seen again in the NCAA tournament.

  18. Poor Bilas’s Dookies If the shoe was on the other shoe he would not say a word. I have watched BC and Duke for many years because that game was my favorite outside of the SEC. What is funny, I laugh at Jay and his blue team. This is one reason Tenn Fans think ESPN is against them. Just think you can watch all the games you wish. We play at 9 on Thursday.

  19. The Tennessee vs Duke game was a free for all. The charge on Flipowski when he made the basket was an obvious block. You can’t jump in front of a driving player when you have not established position. The game was so physical that pure basketball moves were limited. Basketball was never intended to be “played in the mud” as the Tennessee Coach espouses. Bodies were flying, mainly Dukes. The tone was set early and the refs were too weak to change it. That was not a college basketball game but one played on playgrounds by players accustomed to win at any cost.

  20. Bilas is nothing more than a Duke “homer”, a promoter of white elitism, and an intellectual and unprofessional snob of a sports commentator. His kind were too good to go to a state university like Tennessee, and he is wining needlessly after his team was out coached. His reaction to Dukes loss was nothing more than sour grapes. Cone on Jay, you never mixed it up under the goal when you were playing? It’s Spring Jay. The birds are singing, the frogs are croaking, and the Blue Devils are choking.

  21. Imagine that……one of if not the NASTIEST PLAYING TEAM from the ACC and you have a former player turned ESPN analyst Jay Bilas crying about the officiating and boohooin’ because his almamata got their a$$ handed to them by a REALLY VERY GOOD Tennessee team and I just gotta laugh because once again Duke is and has been one of the NASTIEST teams ever!! Too bad they’re represented by a big a$$ baby who if not mentioned most people wouldn’t even know who the hell Jay Bilas is or that he played basketball at Duke so his biased opinion is simply that and if he’s so butthurt maybe he should find another profession that he might actually be good at!! Anyone who believes Duke isn’t a NASTY PLAYING TEAM you might want to watch some vintage videos of them over the past 40 yrs and really pay attention to how they actually play!!

  22. Ya know… when a team like Duke loses… it’s everyone’s fault but their own. For once they weren’t getting the calls they wanted. I’m so glad the VOLS won. I’m sure a lot of others are too. And if Bills wants to know where the VOLS will be is Madison Square Garden baby!!! And the Blue Devils? They’ll be home watching Tn win again!! GO VOLS🟧⬜️🟧⬜️🟧⬜️🧡🤍🧡🤍🧡🤍

  23. Jay Bilas, it’s so evident how hard it is for you to swallow Duke’s defeat and how easy it is for you to blame the referees. You know, I love watching ESPN and respect most of their basketball analysts. However, when you are on the TV it’s difficult to watch you for you evidently take pride in being so condescending to your colleagues that I can see that they too dislike you. If you are so “fed up” with how good basketball is played today, especially in the SEC, then maybe you could find something more “gentler” to analyze like badminton.

  24. Bilas IMO is the best commentator in college basketball today period. Duke fans hate him because he isn’t a homer and regularly rails against his alma mater for flopping. If he thinks a call is bad it’s likely because it is not because of the name on the front of jersey. He is one of the few commentators I enjoy hearing.

  25. Some calls were missed for both teams, as is the case in every single game. For ANYONE to say Tennessee tries to foul is completely delusional. What concerns me is how everyone can see the same thing but come to different conclusions. Steve is right about the play where Duke’s player’s cheek was cut. That clearly should have been a foul against Duke.

  26. The Duke players would never be allowed to play the way TN did. We all know this.

  27. I’m a Duke fan and I give Tennessee credit for playing a solid game. I don’t even have a problem with a game plan of playing extra physical. It was definitely Tennessee’s best plan for winning, even more so when Mitchell was unexpectedly out. The criticism of the refs is fair though and here is why: Barnes is full of crap – when you play that physical you are trying to foul and you know that you should be getting called for a lot of them. Not only did the Vols not get called for them, but Duke got called for more fouls. That’s terrible officiating. And it deserves criticism from any analyst (BTW, listing Bilas as a Duke alum just makes you look silly – every Duke fan can’t stand him because he’s spent his entire career going out of his way to make it clear he isn’t a homer and is more critical and negative of Duke than almost anyone).

  28. Keep on whining Duke from your couch. You got outplayed and beat around. Your league has become garbage and that showed when even the Great Duke got beat down and I personally love it.

  29. Excellent discussion by Jay Bilias. Fouls are fouls regardless of team or time remaining in the game. Consistency by officials should be the goal.
    Jay has been very fair in analyzing college basketball games on a national basis.
    Yes, Duke has received favorable calls over the years to the dismay of other ACC teams, but never flagrant fouls like were ignored by officials in the Tennessee game.
    Speaking of officials, the Women’s Officials are horrible and subpar nationally. It is like listening to third stringers covering all NCAA games on TV.
    I was a VA Tech walkon in 1963.

  30. Ahhh!!! You mean poor Duke didn’t get all the calls like they usually do!! That’s soooo terrible!! That was grown men vs. freshmen, and the freshmen got schooled!!! Duke won nine in a row against the WORST ACC basketball conference in memory!! They never were that impressive!!

  31. The ACC used to be a basketball league while the SEC was the football league, hmmm I guess they are the lacrosse league now.

  32. All I can say is Grayson Allen, the dirtiest player ever, he was a wine bag, it also seems Duke always got away with their dirty antics & got away with a lot more from the refs when coach K was there. I am loyal to any SEC teams especially UK because they are hard playing. Some people doesn’t realize how tuff the players are in the SEC, a man’s conference. Duke got whooped, end of story. Lots of luck to the remaining SEC teams!!

  33. Haven’t you people ever heard of Grayson Allen? Maybe the dirtiest player in college basketball memory. The refs protected him and Duke fans loved his ‘spirited’ play. Now when it comes the other way they can’t help whining.

  34. Rick Barnes is a thug. Always has been.
    Clemson against Carolina when Barnes was coach at Clemson was always dirty play.

  35. It’s funny to see all the Tennessee fans slam us. I can’t guarantee with Mark Mitchell Playing you wouldn’t have won, now back to the dirty field hockey game. When your center was warned once for his arms and intentional high elbows he should have gotten a flagrant. When we started playing aggressive alot of offensive fouls were called, especially the one that would have cut it to 3 points, yall remember. Physical basketball and that mud-mess are two different things VOLS….

  36. Important Duke player fouls and when the referees realize it’s his fifth foul they change the call and charge it to another player who actually got all ball on the play. But all the calls went Tennessee’s way.

  37. Jay Bilas is anything but a homer. His objectivity makes Duke fans crazy. I agree with an earlier comment which says, in essence, Barnes strategy was to play very physical and intimidate the young Duke team. Barnes undoubtedly expected some fouls, but felt this strategy would prevent Duke from playing their style, and create a path to victory for Tennessee. The double cross was the referees called more fouls on Duke and ignored all the pushing, bumping, and grabbing. Tennessee had 3 (THREE) called in the second half on them. If the referees had called them as they should Tennessee still may have won. But not like this! I appreciate the courage (and this took courage) shown by Jay Bilas

  38. I see a lot of Tenn. fans trying to justify there pathetic attempt to rough up younger players. Of course both teams are gonna come to the defensive. Bottom line is what happened, happened. Doesn’t change the fact that that was one of the worst officiated games all tourney..

  39. A tough and physical game? Yes. A dirty game? Not especially. “Men against Boys” is the best comment I’ve seen here.
    Dookie fans are absurdly arrogant, and love to whine when they (Gasp!) lose.
    And Jay Bilas is their High Priest.
    What a condescending wind bag.

  40. Most of these comments are from Carolina fans, that’s obvious. It was a hard fought game. Did the refs miss some calls ? Yes ! Was there some fouls that could have been called flagrant ? Yes ! All in all, they shut down our big guy, Lively. That was the key ! They did play hard against us . I don’t think they were ready for that style of game, but Carolina fans, you didn’t even make it to the big dance, so shut up.

  41. Bilas is on whoever side is playing Tennessee. Funny he never mentioned the dives the Duke players were taking during the game. Obviously drama students. Some of those Duke players, if that’s all it takes to knock them down, they’ll never play in the NBA

  42. Yes I am a Duke fan to start with and yes we got beat! I can live with that however the Tenn fans who say it’s “physically “ must not know the rules of basketball. YES it’s a physical sport but also is football that game was as physical as the modern day NFL. Again if you deny that you don’t know the game. Again I’ll take our loss but lord those officials don’t need to call another game within this tournament period

  43. The Duke/Tennesee game was not a basketball game. It was clear from the onset,that Tennessee’s center was targeting Filipowski. If that’s how they do it overseas,maybe he should stay over there. Everyone hated on Laettner all these years,but he played the game the right way. He was a fierce competitor without injuring another player. Rick Barnes isn’t known as a dirty coach,but this will be a negative on his resume. I’m pretty sure academics aren’t one of Tennessee’s strong suits. We’ll watch the remainder of games and see if they get a taste of their own medicine.

  44. John Davis…exaggerate much?? You liken that game to the NFL is a bit over the top. I’m not a Tenn Homer, I’m an ACC guy and you Dookies complaining about physical play is precious. You’ve done the same thing every night for 20 years. C’mon man, own it like a man. I’m disappointed in all the Duke whining, thought they were better than that.

  45. Crying towels needed for all the Duke fans! Jeez, can you not just accept you lost? Blaming everyone else and not accepting this, just magnified how you guys are always holier than anyone. It’s just nauseating !

  46. Give Bills some cheese to go with his whine. The officials went to the monitor for both plays and saw what they saw. TN kicked Dukes butt and Bills is struggling with that fact.

  47. As a Duke fan here all I have to say Rick Barnes won’t take you guys no ware lol. Yeah we lost to Tennessee good win to you guys. Won’t win it all though 👍🏽

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