A late season hot streak through conference play, followed by a disappointing loss in the tournament that ultimately cost the team an NCAA tournament bid. That’s Tennessee’s story, that’s Savannah State’s story. Both of these teams are coming in disappointed.
Savannah State (21-11, 14-2 MEAC) rely on defense, they’re not a scoring team (averaging 63.7 points per game). Mirror that with Tennessee (18-14, 10-6 SEC), a defensive-minded team that is coming off one of it’s worst shooting games of the season. The Vols shot just 28.1% against Ole Miss on Saturday, including an abysmal 11 of 34 from 3 point range.
For Tennessee, I’m really interested to see how they come out. It’s obvious they are disappointed. That loss to Ole Miss was hard to swallow. The poor performance was bad enough but throw in the missed call at the end and it was a downright miserable experience in New Orleans. Do they bounce back? Is there a hangover affect on the team or do they even care about playing in this game.
It’s going to be important for this team to finish strong. Obviously this team had a legitimate shot at making the NCAA tournament, the stars aligned and the Vols put themselves in a position to get in. But it didn’t happen. Sometimes, it just doesn’t go your way. I’m interested to see if Martin can light a fire under this team or if they’re going to cash in. It will say a lot about a coach, and about this team. Let’s not forget, there was a point where finishing above .500 looked bleak after four straight losses and a debilitating defeat at the hands of Austin Peay.
Keys to the Game:
Play tough, physical, inside basketball: If there’s anything we learned from the Ole Miss game, it’s that Tennessee cannot outshoot opponents. For the Vols to be successful on offense, they have to work the ball inside to Stokes and Maymon, and crash the boards for second chance opportunities. The Vols average 36.6 rebounds per game, they are very good at it. Physical basketball is they’re offensive trademark.
No Hangover: After tough defeats, especially disappointing ones late in the season, it’s hard to bounce back, but for Tennessee the motivation is going to have to be there. When a team isn’t motivated, anyone can beat them. In Tennessee’s last NIT appearance, they were ousted in the first round at home by George Mason. It can happen if you don’t show up.S
Force Savannah State to Shoot: Savannah State struggle shooting from the field, they’re averaging just 42% on the season. Tennessee can use their size to keep the Tigers out of the paint and force bad shots.
Tennessee is the better team coming in, they should win this game. But let’s be honest, it’s March. Crazy things happen and you can pretty much throw most of what happened in the season out the window when there are seconds remaining and the game is close.