Texas and Tennessee; Rodney Terry and Rick Barnes: Can the pupil outclass the mentor in the NCAA Tournament?

Joe Cookby:Joe Cook03/22/24


The game notes for the No. 7 seed Texas Longhorns’ second round matchup with the No. 2 seed Tennessee Volunteers will say that the all-time series between the two teams is tied 4-4 with the Volunteers taking the last meeting in Knoxville in January of 2023. But the two programs are closely linked by the two men sitting in each team’s respective head coaches chair.

[Sign up for Inside Texas and get ONE MONTH for $1 using our March Madness special!]

Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes was head coach of the Longhorns from 1998 to 2015. He lead Texas to the NCAA Tournament in 16 of his 17 years as head coach, with five Sweet 16s, three Elite Eights, and the 2003 Final Four. He coached two national players of the year in T.J. Ford and Kevin Durant, and sent 17 players into the NBA Draft. Barnes remains the program’s all-time leader in wins with a 402-180 record.

Texas head coach Rodney Terry was on Barnes’ bench as an assistant from 2002 through 2011. He was there for the 2003 Final Four and the Elite Eight runs in 2006 and 2008. He helped recruit Durant, DJ Augustin, and Tristan Thompson.

And on Saturday at approximately 7 p.m. on CBS, Terry will try to even the series against his mentor at 1-1.

“Obviously, coach has been a great mentor to myself,” Terry said March 17. “I consider coach family. He’ll take care of his family during this time and I’ll take care of my family right now during this time. We’ll do what we have to do in terms of trying to be prepared to try and win a ballgame.”

Said Barnes after his Volunteers defeated St. Peter’s 83-49 on Thursday, “it is tough when you are playing against guys who have been a part of my career for a long time. He, (Frank) Haith, Chris Ogden, so many guys there that helped us when I was there and were a big part of my success there. It’s always tough when you do that because we all are close. We stay in touch with each other. We talk throughout the year.”

Since his time at Texas ended and his Tennessee tenure began in 2015, Barnes has faced off against his former team twice. The first was in 2022 when Barnes returned to the Erwin Center and received a hero’s welcome. Then-unranked Texas defeated No. 18 Tennessee 52-51 thanks to 18 points from Courtney Ramey.

Then in 2023, Terry took his No. 10 team to Knoxville to face the No. 4 Volunteers. Twenty-seven points from Olivier Nkamhoua and 22 points plus 10 assists from Zakai Zeigler helped the Vols cruise to an 82-71 win.

There is a lot of history between the two coaches in addition to the recent history between the two teams. Barnes spoke Thursday about how he has respect for Terry, assistant coach Frank Haith, and general manager Chris Ogden — all three who were on his Texas staff at some point.

Barnes said there’s a level of familiarity with that Texas trio and the future hall of fame head coach that few in the sport possess. Burnt orange was a common theme during Barnes’ postgame press conference. But at a certain point, Barnes reiterated the importance of the shade of orange he currently dons.

“I’ve been gone nine years and I’m a Tennessee Volunteer,” Barnes said.

Instead of remaining sentimental, Barnes went into coach mode when talking about Max Abmas, identifying the Texas grad transfer as one of the all-time great scorers “that can get going.” He spoke of Texas’ balance, but also admitted there was work to be done in the one-day prep because he hadn’t let himself get ahead of the first-round matchup with the Peacocks.

Terry did similar when speaking last week and there was nary a word about Barnes at the dais following Texas’ victory over the Rams. That said, the challenge currently in front of the Longhorns is a Final Four contender.

Tennessee forward and first-team All-American Dalton Knecht leads the charge for the Vols, averaging 21.1 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. He’s joined by fellow double-digit scorers Zeigler (11.8 ppg, 6.0apg) and Jonas Aidoo (12. ppg, 7.7 rpg). Tennessee is 46th in points per game and 52nd in points allowed per game. In KenPom, Tennessee is No. 7 overall with an impressive No. 3 ranking in adjusted defense.

Defense may be a theme Saturday night, as to be expected for a matchup between a team coached by Barnes and one coached by Terry. Texas played one of its best defensive games of the season on Thursday, limiting Colorado State to 44 points. That was the second fewest points allowed by the Horns all year and the first time the Rams were held under 50 all season. The Horns will need a complete game on both ends, as their own 56-point showing in the first round left plenty to be desired. Terry will look for Abmas and Dylan Disu to return to their scoring averages after both posted 12 points against CSU.

“When you have guys like that, you’re going to ride those guys all the way through,” Terry said Thursday.

Storylines are always a part of the NCAA Tournament, whether it has to do with star players, Cinderellas, or otherwise.

[Subscribe to the brand new Inside Texas YouTube channel!]

Coaches are a part of that, too. On Saturday when the Longhorns face the Volunteers with a place in the Sweet 16 on the line, Barnes and Terry will match wits for a second time in two seasons.

The bright orange hopes the teacher can school the student. The burnt orange looks for the pupil to get one over his old mentor in his second try, and advance to the second weekend in the NCAA Tournament in back to back seasons.

You may also like