Physical Tennessee Volunteers Are Out To Prove They’re Not A Dirty Dozen

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The Tennessee brand of basketball may fit well in the mean streets of New York City.

And perhaps at 4 Pennsylvania Plaza in Midtown Manhattan, aka Madison Square Garden. The No. 4 seed Volunteers (25-10) play No. 9 Florida Atlantic (33-3) on Thursday (9 p.m., TBS) in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 round.

But don’t call it sweet. This could be the ultimate matchup of fists and finesse.

Tennesse and Duke were entangled in a very physical game
Duke’s Kyle Filipowski fell to the floor after taking a running left shoulder from Tennessee center Uros Plavsic early in Duke’s loss to the Vols in the NCAA Tournament second round in Orlando, Florida, Saturday. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Tennessee is No. 3 in the nation in scoring defense with 57.8 points allowed a game. The Vols just held No. 5 seed Duke to its fewest points ever in the NCAA Tournament in a 65-52 win on Saturday in the second round in Orlando. Tennessee physically overwhelmed the Blue Devils with larger players, hard screens and bullish block outs in the paint. It all would have made an offensive line coach proud.

Tennessee Accused Of Dirty Play

Some, such as FOX Sports Radio host Doug Gottlieb, called it dirty play, particularly regarding Tennessee 7-foot-1, European senior center Uros Plavsic.

Plavsic is from Cacak, Serbia. He moved to the United States at age 19 and played at Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Early in the game Saturday, Plavsic spotted Duke’s Kyle Filipowski planted in the lane on offense, ran toward him with a head of steam and nailed him to the floor with his left shoulder. Plavsic looked like a left tackle in football on an end sweep on the play, which drew a foul. And he does weigh 265 pounds.

Plavsic scored zero points with three rebounds and four fouls in 15 minutes. He took one shot, but delivered more. There were several other physical plays by the Vols in which Duke players took hands to the face that drew fouls. Duke, though, did commit more fouls with 17 to 11.

Florida Atlantic plays faster than Tennessee on offense and is No. 32 in the nation in scoring with 78.4 points a game. The Owls do not go inside a lot as they are No. 12 in the nation in 3-pointers made with 9.7 a game. But if they need to against Tennessee’s burly size inside, coach Dusty May has a plan.

“We’re going to study Australian rugby rules and get ready for the Vols,” May said after his team beat 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson, 78-70, on Sunday to advance.

Tennessee has to play hard-nosed defense, because its offense is not so punchy. It is No. 182 in scoring with 71.2 points a game. Florida Atlantic is 43rd in scoring defense at 65.1 points a game.

Rick Barnes Says His Team Plays Physical, Not Dirty

Tennessee coach Rick Barnes does not think he coaches a bunch of Dirty Vols.

“I don’t really put any thought into it,” Barnes said Monday at a press conference. “I think playing good, hard basketball is something nice to look at.”

Unless, you’re too close like Duke’s Filipowski. But it’s not like any Vols’ players stepped on the chest of an opponent as Duke’s Christian Laettner did in the 1992 NCAA Regional final against Kentucky. And nothing was called.

“But I know our guys played hard,” Barnes said. “Duke played hard, too. From my perspective, I didn’t see anything dirty from either team.”

Tennessee coach Rick Barnes is 2 wins away from sending the Vols to their first Final Four. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

And Barnes is on the NCAA rules committee. Plus, he knows a thing or two about Australian rugby, too.

“You know what, I took the Big East All-Star team to Australia back in 1990,” said Barnes, who coached Providence in the Big East from 1988-94. “We went to a match, and I enjoyed it. I thought it was good. And you know what, I probably would pay to go see it.”

May said on Dan Dakich’s “Don’t @ Me” show on that he was just kidding about the rugby comment and had not yet watched the Duke-Tennessee game tape until after his appearance. He had read about the physical play on Twitter, though.

Dirty Vols Look Like A Rugby Team?

“The first thing that popped into my head was Australian rugby because it’s physical without pads,” he said. “And all of a sudden, everybody is up in arms about it. I made a joke. I’ve gotten a lot of heat. I’ve had to deactivate my Twitter account. To me, it’s a compliment. If you said, ‘Man, Dusty’s team is physical,’ I’d be like, ‘Thank you.’ I didn’t realize that saying Tennessee was extremely physical was insulting.”

Barnes fears that May’s comment and others more serious about Tennessee’s supposed dirty play could add to Plavsic’s reputation in the eyes of referees.

Is Tennessee’s Uros Plavsic A ‘Marked Man?’

“I think some of the things that Uros has done through his career, you can become a guy that’s a marked man,” Barnes said. “I thought he was a little bit amped up. But that’s who he is. That’s his emotion with it. We’re always talking to him about, ‘Don’t do anything that’s going to hurt us.’ Regardless of what people think, we don’t want to foul. But he is strong. He’s big. He’s got really good feet. He’s quicker than what people would probably suspect. He’s really good at ball screens.”

Filipowski found that out.

The polar opposite strategies are working for each team. This game will match No. 7 and No. 8 teams in scoring margin with Tennessee at 13.4 and FAU at 13.3.

“They shoot the three with confidence,” Barnes said. “They do a good job of getting in gaps and passing the ball. They know where everybody is. The pass is there, and they don’t need any time to get it off. If we don’t try to get through screens the best we can, you’re going to give up shots. When the shot goes up, you’re going to block somebody out.”

Tennessee To Play More Tackle Basketball

In other words, tackle basketball for the Vols.

“That’s part of the game where it’s physical, where you have to put bodies on people” Barnes said. “We’re going to try to play as hard as we can play. If that’s being physical, I guess we’re going to be physical.”

Meanwhile, Plavsic said is disappointed that Tennessee football coach Josh Heupel has not called about making him a two-sport athlete for the Vols.

“I was waiting for a call,” he said this week. “But maybe he wants to see some more.”

Look out, Owls.

Written by Glenn Guilbeau

Guilbeau joined OutKick as an SEC columnist in September of 2021 after covering LSU and the Saints for 17 years at USA TODAY Louisiana. He has been a national columnist/feature writer since the summer of 2022, covering college football, basketball and baseball with some NFL, NBA, MLB, TV and Movies and general assignment, including hot dog taste tests.

A New Orleans native and Mizzou graduate, he has consistently won Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) and Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) awards since covering Alabama and Auburn at the Mobile Press-Register (1993-98) and LSU and the Saints at the Baton Rouge Advocate (1998-2004). In 2021, Guilbeau won an FWAA 1st for a game feature, placed in APSE Beat Writing, Breaking News and Explanatory, and won Beat Writer of the Year from the Louisiana Sports Writers Association (LSWA). He won an FWAA columnist 1st in 2017 and was FWAA's top overall winner in 2016 with 1st in game story, 2nd in columns, and features honorable mention.

Guilbeau completed a book in 2022 about LSU's five-time national champion coach - "Everything Matters In Baseball: The Skip Bertman Story" - that is available at, and Barnes & Noble outlets. He lives in Baton Rouge with his wife, the former Michelle Millhollon of Thibodaux who previously covered politics for the Baton Rouge Advocate and is a communications director.

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