5 Ways the Tennessee Volunteers Can Upset Duke in Maui
It’s unlikely but not impossible.
There’s no doubt the Tennessee Volunteers (2-0) must play a perfect game to beat No. 6 Duke (4-0) in the opening round of the Maui Classic Monday (5:30 p.m. EST, ESPN2).
But that’s why they play the games, and while the Vols were relaxing in Hawaii on Friday, Duke was playing a tough game at Cameron Indoor Stadium against Davidson.
While the Blue Devils beat Davidson 82-69, they trailed at halftime, and have looked vulnerable at times in wins over Belmont (77-76) and Michigan State (74-69).
A win over Duke would give Vols coach Cuonzo Martin a signature win, much like Bruce Pearl’s first team that went to Texas with a 5-0 record in 2005 and upset Kevin Durant and the No. 6 Longhorns.
You could argue this team has more talent than Pearl’s first team, and a win over Duke will prove to the country that Cuonzo Martin's Vols are for real.
But for UT to put themselves on he map, they will have to do these five things to beat Duke.
1. Trae Must Be Golden
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Nobody’s going to believe this, but Tennessee could have the best player on the floor in sophomore point guard Trae Golden.
At 6’1", 209 pounds, Golden—a 4-star recruit out of Powder Springs, Ga.—rarely got a chance to display his skills with Scotty Hopson and Tobias Harris stealing the spotlight last year.
This year has been a different story, as a much trimmer Golden has proven the offense goes through him, averaging 20 points, 4.5 rebounds and 10 assists per game.
It will be interesting to see if Duke coach Mike Kryzyzewski defends Golden with junior Seth Curry, freshman Austin Rivers or junior Andre Dawkins.
All three have a height advantage over Golden, but even if that prevents Golden from shooting from the outside, he should have the ability to blow past defenders and find open looks for others around him.
If that’s the case, Jordan McRae, Cameron Tatum and Jeronne Maymon are going to have to maximize on the scoring chances Golden creates for them.
It’s a huge advantage, though, knowing every game that the open looks are going to be available because of Golden.
2. Vols Must Limit Turnovers
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While Tennessee comes in only averaging 12 turnovers a game, they haven’t exactly played defensive juggernauts in UNC Greensboro and the University of Louisiana-Monroe.
At times the Vols have been careless with the basketball, particularly in half-court sets.
With Duke’s patented pressure defense, it will be important for UT to control the basketball without coughing it up.
Duke’s defense has forced 17 turnovers per game, and Tennessee needs to keep that number under 15 if they are to beat the Blue Devils.
3. Make Duke Bigs Work on Both Sides of the Court
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There’s no doubt Duke has a huge size advantage, with Ryan Kelly (6’11", 230 lbs), Mason Plumlee (6’10", 230 lbs), and Miles Plumlee (6’10”, 245 lbs).
That’s a stark contrast from UT’s inside presence of Jeronne Maymon (6’7”, 265 lbs) and Kenny Hall (6’9”, 222 lbs).
Despite the Vols' size mismatch, it’s important for Maymon and Hall to get involved. They have to work for the ball in the post and deny the ball on the defensive end.
Working for the ball in the post forces the Duke bigs to think of more than just rebounding. It also makes the Vols more than just one-dimensional. So far the Vols have gotten away with being a jump-shooting team, but Duke’s extended pressure defense is going to contest every shot.
On defense, Maymon and Hall have to deny the Duke bigs the ball and make them work for baskets without risking foul trouble.
Martin can be expected to rotate Yemi Makanjuola (6’9", 244 lbs), Renaldo Woolridge (6’9”, 215 lbs) and Dwight Miller (6’8”, 240 lbs) on the Duke big men, and they must also stick to the same game plan.
4. Vols Guards Must Use Length to Defend
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The size UT lacks inside could be made up for on the perimeter with Jordan McRae (6’5”) and Cameron Tatum (6’7”).
It will be interesting to see who Martin uses to guard junior Seth Curry (15 ppg)—Duke’s leading scorer—and freshman sensation Austin Rivers (13.3 ppg).
Both Tatum and McRae can be disruptive defensively. McRae has punished anyone who penetrates on him, often becoming a shot-blocking presence, as evidenced by his two swats against ULM.
While not providing as much length, Golden can also provide a ball-hawking presence on whomever brings the ball up the court for Duke.
5. UT Must Score in Transition
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There’s only so much you can do against Duke’s pressure defense, but if the Vols can force missed shots and get boards, it could provide easy baskets in transition.
Maymon has proved a worthy asset as a big who can run the floor.
Look for Golden and Maymon to hook up often if Duke’s bigs can get back on defense.
Of course, getting out in transition is contingent on the Vols rebounding, which could be hampered by Duke’s huge size advantage.
Duke is only averaging four rebounds more than their opponents so far, but are averaging nine offensive rebounds per game.
If the Vols are forced to crash the boards with guards, it could deter the transition game.