Following Tennessee’s win over Duke in the second round of the NCAA Tournament over the weekend, a big stink was made over how physical the Vols played. It’s nothing new to us. Tennessee has built a brand on toughness and defense, and nothing we saw on Saturday was out of the ordinary.
But considering who it happened against — and the fact that Duke went on to lose — the narrative that Tennessee played ‘dirty’ found some traction on Twitter. Duke fans and some national media members agreed and clutched pearls on Saturday as they digested the loss.
This story would have gone away in a couple of days naturally as Tennessee moves on to Madison Square Garden to play FAU in the Sweet 16. But then FAU coach Dusty May kept it going, drawing similarities to Tennessee and an Australian Rugby team.
How is FAU coach Dusty May going to prepare for Tennessee?— Trey Wallace (@TreyWallace_) March 20, 2023
A deep dive into Australian rugby rules.. pic.twitter.com/6cgEhGVBao
I’ll be honest, I didn’t have Tennessee-FAU pre-game drama on the bingo card this year.
Rick Barnes was asked to respond to the poorly delivered joke later on Monday. As expected, he didn’t take the bait.
“Well, you know what, I took a Big East All-Star Team to Australia back in ’90,” Barnes said. “We went to a match and I enjoyed it. I thought it was good. I liked the way the referee does all that (signaling) stuff. I enjoyed watching it. You know what, I would probably pay to go see it. We were free that day, but I would pay to go see it.”
Barnes also addressed the narrative that Tennessee played dirty against Duke.
“You know, really, 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 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 my perspective, I didn’t see anything dirty from either team.”
To be clear, Duke players and coaches took the loss to Tennessee in stride on Saturday evening, crediting the physicality and toughness of the Vols. But some in the media wanted to make this a story, and they succeeded.
Dusty May decided to hop on the train on Monday. I’m just going to guess that Barnes and the rest of the team privately love this, giving them added fuel that they didn’t even need.