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Tennessee Basketball Sweet 16 win vs. Creighton was all due to Rick Barnes’ game plan

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Typically, saying it was all according to plan is a satire comment. Something went so well that a coach couldn’t have drawn it up, so it’s said sarcastically. Well, in the case of Tennessee Basketball, the Vols’ 18-0 run to open the second half of their Sweet 16 win against the Creighton Bluejays was all to plan.

UT used that run to pull off an 82-75 win to reach the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight. It’s tied for the deepest March Madness run in school history. Make no mistake, every decision Rick Barnes made in the first half of the game was to set up that run.

With Santiago Vescovi out, Barnes made the decision to start Jahmai Mashack. That wasn’t unexpected. However, what nobody saw coming was Tennessee Basketball putting J.P. Estrella, Cameron Carr and Freddie Dilione in the game in the first half.

Barnes refused to do that all year, often against the wishes of fans who were begging him to turn to his bench. Why would he do it in this moment, a Sweet 16 game in which his team would go home if they lost? The answer was that he was preparing for that second half run.

It was clear the Vols were more athletic than Creighton and would struggle to win if it was a half-court game. As a result, Barnes’ plan was to keep the team fresh and launch an all-out blitz defensively at just the right time to put his team in control. That’s exactly what he did in that second half.

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With Creighton up 39-37, Barnes unleashed. The Vols didn’t just contest every shot. They willingly bit on every potential pump fake, knowing they were fast enough to recover. Zakai Zeigler got around every screen. When it came to the passing lanes, they were aggressively going for the steal.

That combined with them getting hot at just the right time led to such a run. Afterward, Barnes called off the dogs, which is why Creighton pulled to within three at one point, but he knew the whole time that he could turn the jets back on if needed to hold on to the win.

This is why Barnes is one of the greatest coaches in history and the greatest coach in Tennessee Basketball history. His adjustments this year have been incredible, and this is just another feather in that cap. Now, UT is set to face the Purdue Boilermakers with a chance to reach the Final Four. It’s all due to Barnes’ scheming.

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