Tennessee Volunteers vs. Texas Longhorns Pick & Prediction MARCH 23rd 2024


CHARLOTTE — This is practically a homecoming of various proportions for Tennessee coach Rick Barnes.

He has brought his Volunteers to his native North Carolina for the NCAA Tournament, and now he’ll send them to the court against his former team for a Midwest Region second-round game Saturday night.

Second-seeded Tennessee (25-8) will meet seventh-seeded Texas (21-12) with the right to advance to the Sweet 16.

“I’ve got great respect for my time at the University of Texas, and I’ve got dear friends that they’ll be friends until the day I die,” Barnes said. “Like I said, great relationships with much of that staff, but I’ve been gone nine years, and I’m a Tennessee Volunteer. The time I had there was special because a lot of – really there’s a lot of people there that touched my life.”

Texas coach Rodney Terry was an assistant coach under Barnes from 2002-11 at Texas.

“He did a great job of helping us win a lot of games,” Barnes said.

Barnes notched win No. 200 across nine seasons at Tennessee on Thursday night when the Volunteers dominated 15th-seeded Saint Peter’s 83-49. He produced 402 victories in 17 seasons at Texas following stops at George Mason, Providence and Clemson.

The admiration aside, this is a competition.

“When we get ready to play, I can assure you that Rodney and his staff are going to try to win that game as hard as they can, and I can tell you we’re going to try to do the same thing,” Barnes said.

Texas assistant coach Frank Haith was on Barnes’ staff before becoming a head coach at Miami, Missouri and Tulsa and then rejoining the Longhorns.

The Volunteers had some late-season slippage that probably cost them a No. 1 regional seed. They’re feeling better going into the weekend.

“The job’s still not finished, though,” guard Zakai Zeigler said. “We’ve still got to handle Texas.”

The Longhorns hope some of their experiences from the Big 12 Conference come in handy for the second round.

“Just like Saturday-Mondays in the Big 12, we were lucky enough to play three of those this season,” Texas forward Dylan Disu said. “So we have a little bit of experience with quick turnarounds and one-day preps.”

Tennessee depends on toughness, and getting after it defensively is a big part of Barnes’ formula for success. The Volunteers have yielded 85 or more points in three of their defeats this season.

“We’ve still got to come out strong,” Zeigler said. “We’ve still got to be ourselves and be a tough team.”

Texas scored a season-low point total in Thursday night’s 56-44 dismissal of 10th-seeded Colorado State. The Longhorns know they probably need to ramp up production. They reached the 80-point mark in four of their five games before the NCAA Tournament.

More offense could come from Disu and guard Max Abmas, the team’s leading scorer at an average of 17.0 points per game. Terry said his message to Disu was pretty clear.

“You’re a big-time player,” the coach said he told him. “This is your time. This is your stage right now. You and Max, you guys go to work right now.”

Saturday will be a preview of future Southeastern Conference matchups. Texas will join the SEC this summer.

–Bob Sutton, Field Level Media

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