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Rick Barnes Praises Zakai Zeigler’s ‘Infectious’ Mental Makeup Ahead Of Battle Vs Texas


Rick Barnes and the Tennessee Volunteers encounter a familiar opponent on Saturday after dominating Saint Peter’s by 34 in the Round of 64.

The Vols’ and former Longhorns head coach were anticipating this matchup. He initially mentioned it after the Selection Show, then reiterated when he saw Tennessee’s name, pondering, “Will it be Texas or will it be Clemson?” Barnes previously coached at Providence and Clemson before joining Texas in 1998.

Barnes has reached the Sweet Sixteen numerous times in his career, but never with Tennessee. However, this year’s Vols appear different. Dalton Knecht shines as a offensive superstar, maintaining Tennessee’s suffocating defense, while the guard play remains robust, reminiscent of Barnes’ tenure.

This assertion primarily revolves around Zakai Zeigler, who serves as the Vols’ engine. Just a year ago, Zeigler suffered an ACL tear in the final regular season games. Yet, he swiftly rehabilitated and has excelled this season, showcasing exceptional defense and floor leadership, earning him recognition as one of the nation’s top point guards.

Barnes addressed Zeigler’s pivotal role in Tennessee’s success this season on Friday, emphasizing its foundation in Zeigler’s mental strength.

“If you watch how he went through his rehabilitation from a year ago to get his knee right, it tells you a lot about him too because he thought he could play two months before they let him play,” Barnes insisted, via 247 “It’s just his mental makeup. It’s infectious. I think it’s rubbed off on some guys.”

Barnes continued…

“Again, he’s meant more to this program than people can even imagine because talking about the little things in the locker room and all that. I think, when he walks in the locker room, he’s the same every day. One of the great things about him is he is consistent. I’ve never seen him in a bad mood other than when he gets mad at himself. I’ve learned to tweak him a little bit to where he’ll get mad at me. But I love the guy. I don’t know what it will be like now not having him because he’s been such an important part of our team.”

Zeigler recorded an 11-point, 10-assist double-double in the Vols’ 83-49 victory over the Peacocks last night, along with two rebounds and a steal in 31 minutes of play.

His defensive prowess, particularly, will be crucial for Tennessee’s success against the Longhorns tomorrow, who have witnessed stellar guard performances from Max Abmas and Tyrese Hunter this season. Presently, Tennessee is favored by -6.5 on DraftKings.

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