Devil of a problem

Moments after beating Delaware 62-52 in their 1999 NCAA Tournament opener at Charlotte, the Tennessee Vols turned their attention to top-seeded Duke.

There was one small problem: The Vols had to face Southwest Missouri State first. With Southwest Missouri focused on Tennessee and Tennessee focused on Duke, the Bears hammered the distracted Vols 81-51, handing the Big Orange one of the most discouraging setbacks in program history.

This history lesson is timely because Tennessee again finds itself in NCAA Tournament action at Charlotte and again finds itself one win from facing a top-seeded Blue Devil squad. Should the ninth-seeded Vols defeat eighth-seeded Michigan Friday at 12:40, they'll return to action Sunday against Duke, which projects to toy with 16th-seeded Hampton on Friday.

If history repeats - and it sometimes does - Tennessee will be looking ahead to Duke this weekend and suffer a lopsided loss to Michigan. Of course, the Vols insist that won't happen. Still, their comments suggest they already have Duke in their thoughts.

"As a basketball player growing up, when you think about going to college you think about the opportunity to play North Carolina or Duke," senior point guard Melvin Goins said. "I think that's great. Words can't even explain it. But right now we've got to focus on Michigan, try to get past that game."

Junior wing Scotty Hopson also fancies the idea of facing the prestigious Blue Devils on Sunday.

"That's exciting for us," he said. "I even said it before the season: I said, 'It would be tight if we scheduled Duke this year.' I'm excited about the challenge but we obviously can't look past Michigan because they're a good team."

Asked if the prospect of facing Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils on Sunday might motivate the Vols a little on Friday, Hopson replied: "Our main goal is to win the national championship. That's a process that means we have to win each and every game. But there will be a little extra sense of urgency to do that (earn a shot at Duke)."

Like his Vol teammates, senior center Brian Williams is aware that the Vols are on a collision course with the high-profile Blue Devils. This was evident when he was asked about playing in nearby Charlotte.

"It's a benefit for us, being close, but it's not a benefit in that second-round game if we do make it - playing Duke in North Carolina," Williams said. "That's going to be tough."

Asked if the Vols might look past Michigan to Duke, the Vol senior shook his head.

"We're playing a Michigan team that's been successful in the Big Ten," Williams said. "They made it to the tournament out of the Big Ten. They're capable of beating us at any time and we're capable of beating them at any time. It's just about focusing and getting past them in the first round. That's our only focus right now. We can't talk about Duke right now until we get to Duke."

Bruce Pearl says the media may be focused on the top-seeded Blue Devils but that his team is not.

"No, no, no, no," the Vols' head man said. "You guys can write about Duke all you want but Duke doesn't ..."

He paused briefly and never finished the thought. Instead, he concluded:

"We have a four-team tournament - Tennessee, Michigan, Duke and Hampton - and only one of those four teams is going to survive."

Pearl has never faced Duke as a head coach but he did face the Blue Devils twice in The Dance while he was an assistant at Iowa.

"When I was at Iowa, interestingly enough, we played Duke in second-round games a couple of times and got smashed pretty good - once in Greensboro and the other time in Minnesota," he recalled. "One of those times Duke went on and won a national championship."

Clearly, Pearl is not concerned about Duke. In fact, he isn't terribly concerned about Michigan.

"Our big focus is us," he said. "It's been awhile since we've all been on the same page and played with great cohesiveness. It's been awhile since we've put 40 minutes of defense together."

Unless the Vols correct those problems by 12:40 on Friday, they won't have to concern themselves with facing Duke on Sunday.

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