NICK BROMBERG: Tennessee is in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2019 thanks to a massive game by Olivier Nkamhoua. Nkamhoua had 27 points and was 10 of 12 from the field, as the volunteers kept Duke at an arm's length to win 65-52. Duke was a popular pick to make the Sweet 16 after ending the regular season on a winning streak and cruising through the ACC tournament.
But Tennessee made life incredibly tough for the Blue Devils on the offensive end and Duke shot less than 30% from behind the 3-point line. Nkamhoua also took over in the second half as Duke tried to inch its way back into the game. He scored 13 straight points after Duke cut Tennessee's lead to 4 at 46-42. By the time his scoring run was over, Tennessee led 59 to 48 with 4.17 to go and Duke's chances of winning were all but extinguished.
Just 35% of entries in Yahoo's Tourney Pick 'em had Tennessee in the Sweet 16 despite their status as a number four seed. Tennessee wasn't a popular pick because of the match-up against Duke and because the Vols have played the end of the season without point guards, Zakai Zeigler, after he tore his ACL.
But now Tennessee is a win away from its first Elite Eight appearance since 2010 under Coach Bruce Pearl and current coach Rick Barnes is one win away from his first Elite Eight since 2008. Barnes has been one of the best coaches in college basketball over the last 3 plus decades, but his teams have made just one Final Four. With a wide-open East Region, maybe 2023 will be his second Final Four.