By Joel Silverberg / @JoelSilverberg
On Monday Tennessee remained atop the AP and Coaches Polls ahead of Duke, which sits at No. 2 in both. The Volunteers received 40 first place votes from the Associated Press to Duke’s 24 and 30 nods as the top team in college basketball in the Coaches Poll. The Blue Devils received only two.
However, it was Sunday’s reveal of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee’s Top 16 that added fuel to the fire of the ongoing debate as to which school should really be ranked No. 1 in the country. The Committee’s mid-season look at next month’s tournament has Duke as the top overall seed with Tennessee next and still taking a No. 1 seed in the South Region.
On Monday our station fielded countless phone calls from impassioned Big Orange fans who felt their school, their team, their city had been jobbed.
“Duke has two losses! We only have one!”
“Duke lost to Gonzaga! Tennessee beat Gonzaga!”
“Duke lost to Syracuse at home! Tennessee wouldn’t have lost to Syracuse at Thompson-Boling Arena!”
“I’m more afraid of West Virginia than I am of Duke! Tennessee would beat Duke by 12 points 80 percent of the time! The Blue Devils are one dimensional!”
Okay, that last one is from our guy @BadTakeAndyWNML so don’t read into that as a reflection on the rest of the fan base.
One thing is clear; the college basketball world wants to see Tennessee and Duke meet at some point in the NCAA Tournament. At least it should.
Two teams with high-flying offenses featuring speed, athleticism and multiple looks is a matchup fans even outside of Knoxville and Durham can look forward to. The individual matchups of Zion Williamson versus Kyle Alexander and Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield against R.J. Barrett or Jordan Bone on Tre Jones are all noteworthy, but the list goes on and on.
Two years ago no Tennessee fan would’ve thought anybody in Knoxville would be arguing the Vols should be the top ranked team in college basketball.
It’s a significant step for a program that’s never been to the Final Four, has made the Elite Eight once and has made the Sweet 16 just seven times. 43 schools have eight or more Sweet 16 appearances.
Now Tennessee is a legitimate basketball program with very real expectations to make the Final Four and then some. We all know the madness that is the month of March, but should the Vols win four tournament games the aforementioned Blue Devils could very well be lining up down the sideline from Tennessee.
And there will be a lot of experts, analysts and commentators who will be planning out that very matchup in their respective brackets. The Selection Committee may have slighted Tennessee in the initial Top 16, but the Vols aren’t short on national respect.
In October of 2017, Tennessee fans were griping against the likes of Mississippi State and South Carolina as to why the Vols should be higher than 13th in the SEC. 16 months later Knoxville is debating against a historic power in Duke that the Volunteers, not the Blue Devils are the best basketball team in America.
That’s quite a turnaround.