Which double-digit seed will advance?
LAS VEGAS, NV (The Spread) – Which double-digit seed has the best chance to advance in the Sweet 16?
When looking at the Tennessee, I feel they have the best chance of advancing to the Elite 8 as a double-digit seed. Tennessee ended their season playing their best basketball of the season as they are currently 8-1 SU their last 9 games. The one loss was to the #1 ranked Florida Gators in the semi-finals of the SEC Championship. Looking closer at that game, the Vols had a 35-28 lead at halftime and were in a great position to knock of the nations #1 team before a stingy Florida defense held Tennessee to only 6 points and one field goal over the last 12 1/2 minutes.
Tennessee comes into this game playing with a world of confidence and momentum as it seems destiny might have it for this #11 seed that had to sneak in the tournament in the play-in game to advance to the Elite 8. The biggest reason I like them to advance in this round is their defense as the Vols are holding opponents to 55.5 ppg over their last 9 games. That includes holding UMass to 67, Iowa to 65 in overtime, Missouri to 45, and the Florida Gators to 56. All 4 of these teams have efficient offenses and were held well below their season averages.
In this game vs. Michigan on Friday night, they have two distinct advantages. One being they are the much better defensive team and they will bring their physical style of play straight to Michigan. The other huge advantage that is worth noting is that Tennessee is the much better rebounding team and when second chance points are so critical, the vols are averaging 13.6 offensive rebounds a game. This is huge considering an undersized frontcourt is only averaging 8.8 rebounds a game.
Tennessee has a 'two headed monster' in the paint with Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes. These guys are both 6'8" and 260+ pounds. They take up a lot of room down low and use their size to their advantage. Both guys are extremely athletic as well for their size and have developed a great chemistry together. Michigan will probably try to double team these guys and the Vols will have success by swinging the ball to find the open man on the perimeter.
This is a rematch from 2011 in the NCAA Tournament when Michigan won 75-45. It was a close game at halftime before Michigan went on a 21-4 run in the second half. Obviously, these are two different teams now with a lot of new faces. This was HC Bruce Pearl's last game as coaching the Vols and HC Cuonzo Martin came in to resurrect the program. Let me remind you that Martin has Big 10 ties as he used to coach for Purdue before taking the head coaching job at Tennessee. I like Tennessee and HC Martin to make amends for this 2011 Tournament loss and to make a trip to the Elite 8.
I have already mentioned the Vols defensive advantage and their offensive rebounding advantage. Now I would like to mention two athletic guards they have that can score in a variety of ways. Jordan McRae is a 6'6" senior guard that is a NBA prospect averaging 18.6 ppg on the season. McRae can ignite this Tennessee offense in a hurry by knocking down the three-pointer, or slashing to the basket, or hitting the mid-range jumper. He is versatile and I have seen McRae perform 'big' when the game is on the line. The other guy I would like to talk about and can be the 'X' factor in this game is 6'6" Josh Richardson. Richardson has come on strong this NCAA tournament putting up 15, 17 and 26 points. Richardson has a nice stroke with a deadly mid-range jumper. Not only does he have one of the best pull-ups in the country, he can get in the lane as good as anybody. The man running the point is Antonio Barton. Barton is not a flashy player but he knows how to direct his team. He does not make careless decisions and I will note that he has not made a turnover this postseason. This is a strong starting 5 that cannot be overlooked.
For Michigan, they are led by Nik Stauskas who is a lights-out three point shooter at 45% on the season. While Stauskas can light it up, he also turns the ball over too much which can be costly in this game. I will also note that Michigan is a young team as they start 1freshman, 3 sophomores, and one senior. Derrick Walton is a freshmen point guard who has been great this season, but the pressure rises now on a bigger stage and I will give the Vols the advantage in the backcourt as well in the frontcourt for this game not only with their talent but with their experience. Tennessee starts 3 seniors and 2 juniors. The point guard Barton(Memphis transfer) is a senior and has tournament experience and McRae is a senior as well. He was on this Tennessee team in 2011 when they lost to Michigan in the tournament. So McRae knows the stakes in this game and will be hungry to bring a win home for Vol Nation.
Look for Tennessee to play their brand of basketball tonight. I look for them to control the boards and to get out in transition when possible and when not; to run their offense through the post. I like defensive minded teams in the tournament and I like guard play. I will put the McRae/Richardson combo as one of the most underrated guard combo's in the country and after this game I have a feeling the rest of the nation will know plenty about them as well.
Play on Tennessee Voles