The physicality of Tennessee was, in some ways, the biggest combined talking point for this Sweet 16 matchup on Thursday night.
During Sweet 16 Media Day on Wednesday, both Tennessee and FAU’s sides were asked about the physicality that Tennessee brings to the table.
For Tennessee, the Vols are continuing to embrace this style of play. And in some ways, this new talk about Tennessee’s physicality, spilling into the “dirty team” conversation, is surprising to see this late in the season. The Vols have been a physical team all year going back to key matchups such as Maryland, Texas, and Alabama.
“It’s very surprising,” Tennessee forward Jonas Aidoo said on Wednesday about the dirty narrative starting to rise. “I mean, we’ve played about 30 games in the year and now, when we get to the tournament, people are now saying we’re a dirty team. I’m not really sure where that’s coming from, but it is what it is.”
For FAU, the Owls are well aware of Tennessee’s take-you-down-to-the-mud mentality after watching the Duke game. Even before that, too, as freshman guard Nick Boyd recalled his phone blowing up after FAU’s second-round victory with that being the main talking point about Tennessee.
“The physicality stood out to me from the jump,” Boyd said on Wednesday. “Everybody calls our phones and says, ‘Are you sure you’re ready for Tennessee? You know they’re physical, right?'”
More from RTI: Everything Rick Barnes Said Before Tennessee’s Sweet 16 Matchup With FAU
Here’s a look at some of the statements that were said by both Tennessee and FAU about the Vols’ physicality. Tennessee and FAU will square off at 9:00 p.m. ET on Thursday night in New York City.
FAU HC Dusty May
On the Australian rugby comment: So I didn’t see the Duke game, have no idea, I had just heard through Twitter there were some comments made. But I say that in the most complimentary way possible. Coach Barnes is a legend and it hasn’t changed. When I was at Florida they were the same way, and it was hard to make a pass, let alone score a basket against them.
On what stands out about Tennessee’s defense: How well they keep the ball out of the paint and close to shooters with their size, length. But most importantly, it’s their intensity and their physicality. They play every single possession like it’s their last.
On the most physical teams FAU has played this season: Well, North Texas in our league, they’re one of the better defensive teams in the country every single year, and they’re incredibly physical. They don’t have the mass Tennessee has, but they have a similar style where they challenge everything. They put their chest on you. They play in just a rough, physical manner, and they’ve done it, and it’s successful.
FAU Guard Nick Boyd
On what stood out during his Tennessee prep: Yeah, like you said, the physicality stood out to me from the jump. Everybody calls our phones and says are you sure you’re ready for Tennessee? You know they’re physical, right? I feel like that’s been the trend for us the whole year. We’re an undersized group, but we’ve got heart. And just got to get yourself mentally prepared and mentally ready to really bang and be physical and try to match that as best you can and give yourself a chance to go to the Elite 8.
FAU Forward Giancarlo Rosado
On how much he hears about the Tennessee physicality narrative: Hey, we’re bringing our hardhat. We know Tennessee is physical, but we ain’t worried about that. It’s going to be a physical game. They’re scrappy, we’re scrappy. We’re going to compete tomorrow.
FAU Center Vladislav Goldin
On Tennessee: They can play dirty sometimes is what I’ve seen. So we just have to stay focused and play through everything and don’t pay attention on any outside factors.
Tennessee Forward Jonas Aidoo
On the newer narrative that Tennessee can be a dirty team at times: It’s very surprising. I mean, we’ve played about 30 games in the year and now, when we get to the tournament, people are now saying we’re a dirty team. I’m not really sure where that’s coming from, but it is what it is.
On setting the tone early: Very important. Just setting the tone is the main thing. Like, as soon as you set the tone, you can get the advantage a little bit. That just controls the pace of the game. So I think setting the tone early, that just had us controlling the game from that point on.
Tennessee Forward Uros Plavsic
On the national perception of Tennessee after the Duke win: We’re really tough, man. If you meet a team that’s that tough (and) you don’t kind of play on the same level, you’re not as tough as them. When you lose a game people might say stuff like that. I don’t really pay a lot of attention to all that outside noise. All that stuff. We’re physical. We’re tough and we take pride in that and we’ve done that all year. I don’t think we’ll change for anything.
On if there was any difference in the physicality against Duke: I think we can be even more physical than that, honestly. I think we can play even tougher than we played against Duke. I’m really excited to show that to people out there.”
Tennessee Guard Zakai Zeigler
On the Australian rugby comment from Dusty May: Well, if playing hard is labeling us as rugby players, then I guess we’re the best rugby team out there.