Will Vols be awed?

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Considering the circumstances, the Big Orange may become the Big Awe-range this afternoon in the Maui Invitational.

That's because Tennessee, pegged 11th or 12th in most preseason SEC basketball projections, will be facing the winningest coach and highest-profile program in men's college basketball today. Cuonzo Martin's Vols (2-0) and Mike Krzyzewski's Duke Blue Devils (4-0) tip off at 5:30 EST.

Given that Duke is rated the sixth-best team in the country and Tennessee is pegged as the sixth-best team in the SEC East, it would be understandable if the Vols show up for tipoff a little awestruck. They insist they won't be.

"It's a business trip," junior power forward Jeronne Maymon said before leaving Knoxville for Hawaii. "We're going out there with hopes to win games."

Sophomore point guard Trae Golden, Tennessee's top player to date, agreed that the Big Orange is not intimidated by the Blue Devils.

"They're a great team," he said, "but I think we're going to approach it the same way we approach any other team, and we're going to be ready to play come Monday afternoon."

Asked if facing the game's most famous coach and one of its elite programs might give the Vols a little extra spring in their step, Golden grinned broadly.

"It's Duke, Coach K and Hawaii. That's all you need to say, man," he said. "It's going to be great."

Compared to Game 1 and 2 foes UNC Greensboro and Louisiana-Monroe, junior shooting guard Skylar McBee conceded that the Vols need to "take it up another notch" against a team the caliber of Duke. Still, he believes the team is up to the challenge.

"Duke is one of the big names in college basketball; I watched 'em a lot growing up," McBee said. "It'll be a good experience to get to play them but we're going down there to win and, hopefully, that's what we'll do."

Naturally, Tennessee's freshmen are a little more keyed up about the prospect of facing Krzyzewski and his Blue Devils.

"Coach K ... I mean he's Coach K, so anybody will be a little star-struck just seeing him," first-year wing Josh Richardson said. "But, once we get in the flow of things, I think it'll be like facing any other team."

With the game being televised nationally by ESPN2, a lot of eyes will be on Duke. That means a lot of eyes will be on Tennessee, too.

"Whenever you play a team like Duke you're on the biggest stage," junior power forward Dwight Miller said. "Everybody knows Duke and knows everything about their program."

Richardson expanded on that premise, noting: "I think it's a big opportunity for us to show what we can do. People underestimate us a lot this year, so this is a big chance to show everybody what we're capable of."

The opportunity to play college basketball's finest teams is a key reason Miller transferred to UT from junior college.

"There's definitely extra excitement," he said. "You want to play the best teams in the country. If you want to be the best you have to beat the best. That's our motive right now."

Although Tennessee is a prohibitive underdog, the Vols insist they do not fear the Blue Devils.

"They lace up their shoes just like we do," Miller said, "and we work just as hard as they do. We go at it every day in practice — blood, sweat and tears — and we wouldn't let that go to waste."

Head coach Cuonzo Martin is doing everything he can to make sure his players keep their poise against Coach K and his high-profile program.

"Oh, it's just another ball game," Martin said. "It's a great opponent but we attack it the same way. I tell our guys all the time: The only thing that changes is the name on the jersey. You've got to approach 'em the same way."

Just another ball game? Yeah, right.


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