UT Wins again and Advances to Sweet Sixteen

Well we are in the Sweet 16 Team for the third time in 4 years! Who ever would have thought that UT would ever reach this mark in Basketball after the past 15 years prior to Bruce. If we win on Friday night we will set history for this program. Things didn’t always go to plan this season but a certain group of guys stepped up and UT is here. Read about the matchup after the jump.

How We Got Here

On January first the Vol’s world got rocked. All-Star Tyler Smith and 3 team mates were pulled over with drugs and guns found in the car. All were suspended. Tyler was kicked off with in the week.

The rest of the team did not lose focus though. The Vol’s were down to 6 scholarships and 3 walk on’s. Those walk on’s were up to the task though. “It was really important at first that we come in and contribute right away,” Steven Pearl said. “If we were just logging minutes and not being productive, the team was going to suffer. We had to contribute for this team to keep doing things we wanted to do.”

The rest of the team took notice of this fact. “The players that stepped up for us when we got into the problems did a great job,” Brian Williams said. “Without them we wouldn’t be in this situation. We would have lost four or five games and started slow (in the SEC). This team has walk-ons that can play at this level and be successful.”

The Vols currently have 11 players who have averaged more than 10 minutes per game which is a pretty amazing feat. J.P. Prince leads the Vols with 28.7 minutes per game. This means that the Vols are generally well rested and if one player is having an off night someone else can show up.

“When you get down to six scholarship players and three walk-ons and you really don’t know what you have, the whole way you’ve built your team is now maybe going to change course,” Bruce Pearl said. “But one of the things that we do in coaching is we try to prepare our players to handle adversity.We also try to remind our young people when it’s not going your way “& don’t think about transferring and find yourself in the same situation. Do something about it and stay ready because your opportunity is going to come.”

“We kept our minds straight on what we wanted to do this season,” Chism said. “Even though we had on our mind what things were happening, we kept our heads straight and we stayed focused.”

Pearl for one believed in his players and after the first win over Charlotte he was excited about what he saw.”Wait until you see what we do with this (situation),” Pearl said smiling.

“At that point, there were no expectations, and I felt some would think the season was over,” Pearl said, “but I sensed our kids did not think the season was over.The kids that weren’t playing were ready to get out there and show what they could do, and the guys that were playing were ready to take advantage of their expanded roles.”

Looks like he was right. Pearl eventually let the other 3 players back on the team after making them sit for several games. It’s a good thing to as Tatum leads the Vols in 3-point shooting percentage (.368), Goins scored a career-high 15 in a first-round win over San Diego State, and Williams has averaged 10 rebounds through the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.

Sweet 16 Match up with Ohio State Buckeyes

Pearl said this when asked about the Ohio State match-up, “Ohio State is going to press us. … they’ll play zone, they’ll play a 1-3-1, they’ll play a switching man-to-man, and we’ll have to be able to handle all of that. Our team has come together all year long. The question is, will we be good enough to stop them and handle all the things they can do?” Well so far this year the Vol’s have handled adversity extremely well. This level of achievement already makes the Vols season successful in my opinion.

Bobby Maze tweeted this morning: its funny how so many people are hating our team. Well we sure didn’t come here to lose. Our time is now. Just watch. With that attitude, as well as what I have seen from the other players and coaches, these Vol’s aren’t satisfied and are ready to make school history. If we win today the elite 8 match up looks to be a breeze so a Final Four for the Basket Vols? That would be unbelievable!

But first we have to win tomorrow night and that is a tough match up in and of itself. The Vol’s bring in their 9th starting line-up of the season, and they have been successful with this line up going 7-1 since its installment.

The Vols are playing an entirely different style of basketball then Tennessee fans are use to seeing the last 4 years. The press has vanished for the most part and a lot of the 3 point shots have to. In its place is something entirely different and something some fans would argue is much better. The Vols have bought into playing a blue-collar, smash-mouth effective brand of basketball with smothering defense and inside scoring.

“It’s defense and rebounding that have been the keys,” senior point-guard Bobby Maze said. “It’s crazy it took this team as long as it did to figure it out, but when we defend and rebound, it allows us to get out and score some in transition.” Junior center Brian Williams put it more bluntly, “It ain’t pretty, but it doesn’t have to be. They say adversity builds character, and we’ve sure had that.The way we’re playing, physical, defense and rebounding, we look like a Big Ten team out there.”

The Vols have their hands full though. Junior Evan Turner is averaging 20 points, 6 assists and just more than 9 rebounds this season and is considered to be one of, if not the best, player in the nation. As a freshman he averaged 8.5 points a game and 4.4 rebounds and had about as many assists as turnovers. But last year, as a sophomore, he took off, averaging 17.3 points and 7.1 rebounds.

“I’ve told anybody that’s listened,” UC Santa Barbara coach Bob Williams said before his team’s first-round game with Ohio State. “We’ve had the good fortune, we played North Carolina last year when they were the national champions. We played Kansas when they were like No. 3 in the country. We played Stanford when they were 4 in the country. We haven’t played against anybody that was like Evan Turner. . . . There’s really not a weakness in his game. He’s probably the most complete player . . . in my college tenure of being able to coach that I’ve had the opportunity to coach against.”

That’s high praise considering they have played against Sherron Collins, and Tyler Hansborough. Can the Vol’s matchup? They think so and I believe them. J.P. Prince will be charged with guarding Turner the most but will get help from Scotty and Tatum.

Pearl feels comfortable with J.P. and trusts his senior. “He’s just a good all-around player. He creates possessions for you defensively with taking charges and getting deflections and getting steals. J.P. makes a lot happen, and he’s one of the guys, J.P. can look at me and say, ‘Coach, I got this. I got this.’ And most of the time, he does.”

He scored at least 10 points 18 times for Tennessee this season and has had at least six rebounds in 12 games. During the NCAA tournament, he has led them in points with 16.5 points per game and minutes with 28 per game. He’s averaging 66.7 percent shooting from the floor during the tournament as well. “His shooting percentage is good because he gets a lot of stuff around the basket,” Pearl said. “He doesn’t take many 3s, but he’s made just enough in big situations you don’t go, ‘Oh!’ every time he shoots it. … He makes good decisions.”

If Tennessee can press Turner then he will turn the ball over (13 times in the tournament, 9 vs Georgia Tech) and get frustrated. They are not very deep so if we can run them a lot they will get wore out. I say Tennessee wins. The elite 8 is to easy for us this year so I say Final Four, baby!

Here is what CBS has had to say about each team and the Match up:

Team: Ohio State Buckeyes

Coach: Thad Matta, six years at Ohio State, four years in NCAA tournament.

How they got here: Big Ten champions; Midwest first round: Defeated Santa Barbara 68-51; Midwest second round: Defeated Georgia Tech 75-66.

They’ll keep winning if …: Evan Turner can handle being the focal point for minutes of every game the Buckeyes will play going forward. And if Turner doesn’t reinjure his back trying to throw down a dunk. The Buckeyes went 21-4 with him but just 3-3 without him in the regular season. Entering the Big Ten tourney, Ohio State had gone 24-2 when it shoots a higher percentage than its opponent, 15-2 when it out-rebounds its opponent and 18-1 when it cracked the 70-point barrier. The exception to the last rule came on Nov. 19 vs. North Carolina.

Evan Turner
Evan Turner

Go-to guys: Considering junior G Evan Turner finished the regular season as the Big Ten’s leading scorer (19.5 points per game) and rebounder (9.4 rebounds per game), as well as the league’s second-best passer (5.8 assists per game) and pilferer (1.8 steals per game), the conference’s Player of the Year just might be the defining factor in every game. He was back to himself — 40 minutes, 24 points, nine rebounds and nine assists — against Georgia Tech. The one concern for the Buckeyes is that Turner got off to cold shooting start in the tournament, making just 2 of 13 shots against UC Santa Barbara. Junior wing Jon Diebler led the Big Ten in 3-pointers (93) and has been known to hit seven bombs in a game. Diebler was 7-for-12 from long range against UC Santa Barbara and scored 23 points. Junior David Lighty (12.4 points per game) is a nightmare for a conventional power forward to defend, as he can shoot 3s and attack the rim.

Strengths: Ohio State’s starting five might be the finest in the field. Junior C Dallas Lauderdale is a shot-blocking, pick-setting menace in the middle who allows Turner, Buford, Diebler and Lighty to be their explosive selves all over the court. They like shooting 3-pointers to spread the defense, which then allows them to attack the gaps for drives and pull-up jumpers. Turner, in particular, has the strength and the handle to get wherever he wants to go. And, since every starter is at least 6-5, the Buckeyes have the length to frustrate opposing offenses. They’ll switch between a man-to-man and a 1-3-1 trap.

Weaknesses: The first five — yeah, pretty good. But Ohio State has little to no depth. Kyle Madsen (2.4 points per game) backs up Lauderdale in the post and senior Jeremie Simmons (5.1 points per game) helps a little on the perimeter, but Simmons has struggled to recover from nerve damage near his eye. The Buckeyes’ bench produced just seven points in 14 minutes against UC Santa Barbara and didn’t score (just one field goal attempt) in 13 total minutes against Georgia Tech. The Buckeyes also need to replace two starters late in games to keep them off the free-throw line: Lauderdale (44 percent) and Lighty (63 percent).

Team: Tennessee Volunteers

Coach: Bruce Pearl, five years at Tennessee, five years in NCAA tournament.

How they got here: At-large bid; Midwest first round: Defeated San Diego State University 62-59,  Midwest second round: Defeated Ohio University 83-68.

They’ll keep winning if …: Defense remains the big key for the Vols. In their only loss in their last six regular-season games, Florida blistered the nets for 50.9 percent from the floor. In the five wins in that span, only two teams (Georgia at 43.1 and Arkansas at 40.3) topped 40 percent. The Vols held Kentucky to a season-low 35 percent. Kansas came to Knoxville undefeated as the nation’s No. 1 team and managed only 37.7 percent against a depleted Tennessee lineup that was without four key players. San Diego State shot 38.5 percent against the Vols on Thursday. The Vols have reached the NCAA field all five years under Pearl and have won at least two games in the tourney in two of the past three years. They dropped a two-point decision to Oklahoma State as a No. 9 seed in the first round last season.

Wayne Chism
Wayne Chism

Go-to guys: Tennessee is balanced on offense with no player averaging more than 12.5 points a game. That would be G Scotty Hopson, who scored 17 points in the second-round win over Ohio. F Wayne Chism averages 12.3 points and leads in rebounding with 7.2 per game. G J.P. Prince, however, has been the leading scorer in the NCAA tourney with 33 points. Junior C Brian Williams has given the Vols more muscle inside down the stretch since moving into the starting lineup. The Vols can be spotty 3-point shooters. They shot 31.8 percent on the season but went 8 of 17 against San Diego State before falling back to 5 of 14 from behind the arc against Ohio.

Strengths: It wouldn’t be any surprise to see Pearl dial up an unconventional matchup — like Chism checking Turner — or an unusual defense (1-3-1 zone trap to crowd available lanes for penetration. Tennessee shot better than 46 percent from the field for the regular season and held opponents under 40 percent. In 16 conference games, the Vols held foes to just 39.6 percent from the field overall and 29.5 percent on 3-pointers. The Vols also were plus-one in turnover margin for the year. In Chism, they have a guy who can take a low-post defender outside and hit the 3-pointer. Prince is an athletic guard who also can be effective inside. He seemed to become more assertive following the dismissal of Tyler Smith. The Vols force opponents into just under 17 turnovers a game while averaging only 13 themselves.

Weaknesses: The Volunteers’ 3-point success rate was only 31.3 percent entering the NCAA Tournament, but they hit eight of 17 (47.1 percent) against the Aztecs. Hopson has made only 33.6 percent of his 3-pointers for the season, but he is 13-for-56 (23.2 percent) over his last 12 games. The Vols have struggled in the rebounding department recently, and they were 10th in the SEC in free-throw shooting, hitting only 66.7 percent for the regular season. Only three players who see much in the way of playing time (Maze, Chism and Skylar McBee) are shooting better than 65 percent from the stripe.

CBS Matchup:

Tennessee’s defense will be challenged by Big Ten player of the year Evan Turner (20 ppg, 9.2 rpg and 6 apg), who teams with William Buford, Jon Diebler and David Lighty to give the Buckeyes a lethal perimeter attack. Containing Turner is clearly paramount for the Vols, but it can’t forget about Lighty or Diebler. Tennessee will try to get the ball inside to Wayne Chism and Brian Williams and hope to get the depth-shy Buckeyes into foul trouble. The Vols need Scotty Hopson to be on his 3-point game to loosen up things inside.


About Steven Harris

Steven Harris is a fifth year senior at the University of Tennessee. Majoring in sports journalism, this blog provides an outlet for Harris to share his thoughts on the state of the University of Tennessee's athletic department''s Volunteer teams. View all posts by Steven Harris

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