The unlikely Sweet Sixteen matchup between Tennessee and Florida Atlantic is scheduled for tip Thursday night, and Vols head coach Rick Barnes is making sure to give respect where respect is due when it comes to the Owls.
“Well, they certainly catch your attention early in the year when they went to Florida and won at Florida, something we didn’t do,” Barnes said. “Any program, team that wins 33 games, I don’t care what league you’re in, because it’s hard.
“All jobs are hard and difficult jobs, but for them to go through that, the first word that would come to my mind is consistency, because to do that day in and day out, knowing that they became the team that everybody was wanting to beat and gear up for.”
Sitting at 33-3 on the season, FAU boasts a nine-game winning streak heading into the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend.
“When you look at their team, they’re smart, they know each other well, great concepts on the offensive end, very sound defensively,” Barnes said. “They should be a very highly confident team, because again, if you win 33 games, it speaks volumes. No doubt all that they’ve done, they’ve earned it.”
The Owls don’t have that one go-to scoring option, but rather focus on ball distribution and shot creation. Three players average in double figures, but six FAU players average at least seven points in total, giving their offense the ability to rotate scoring duties based on matchups.
Instead, they average assists on 15 made baskets per night. That might be good for second in Conference USA, but ranks outside of the top-50 nationally. Tennessee, on the other hand, ranks No. 8 in the nation in assists per game with 16.8.
Regardless of matchups, the NCAA Tournament is anyone’s ballgame at this point in the season. FAU might have had a more relaxed path of getting there compared to the rest of the field, but Barnes wants to make sure his players are respecting FAU regardless of name recognition and noteriety.
Tip-off between the Vols and Owls is set for Thursday night at 9 p.m. ET live on TBS. Tennessee will enter the day as four-point favorites over Florida Atlantic. Whichever team comes out on top will face the winner of Michigan State vs. Kansas State, which is the opening Sweet 16 game on Thursday.
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