With the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament in the books, the Tennessee Volunteers are getting ready for the Sweet 16.
In Muhammad Ali’s hometown, the Vols have more than a puncher’s chance of reaching the Elite 8 for just the second time in team history Thursday night. On the other side of the ring, the Purdue Boilermakers who are making a third straight trip to the Sweet 16. That’s no small feat, but in his younger years, Rick Barnes made it clockwork, reaching five region semifinals in a seven-year period from 2001 to 2008.
Until Tennessee topping Iowa on Sunday, he hadn’t been back since. “The fact is you don’t take any of this for granted. You don’t. It’s hard to get there. It’s hard to advance, so when you do get there you want to take advantage of it,“ Barnes said.
Purdue head coach Matt Painter was complimentary of the Vols as his team prepares for Thursday’s matchup. “Obviously, the resume that Tennessee has speaks for itself,” Painter said. “I always talk about being in the NCAA tournament, everybody earned their way here. But the people that have 1 and 2 seeds, like Virginia and Tennessee, they’ve had phenomenal years to put themselves in that position.”
The four coaches in Louisville: Barnes, Painter, Virginia’s Tony Bennett and Oregon’s Dana Altman, combine for twenty Sweet 16 berths between them. Only Barnes and Oregon’s Dana Altman have reached the Final Four.