Bring back who? I think the Vols are doing just fine with the head coach they have.
Call it an upset if you want, but the Tennessee Vols looked to be the better team from start to finish in their impressive 86-67 rout of 6th seeded Massachusetts in the Round of 64 game in Raleigh, NC. The 11th seeded Vols (23-12) played one of their best all-around games of the year, and they sent the Minutemen of UMass (24-9) packing.
The Vols allowed an early bucket and UMass took an initial 2 point lead, but after a Jordan McRae three pointer to answer that possession, the Vols never looked back. McRae scored 21 points and was feeling it all day, even throwing down a massive dunk the likes of which few collegiate rims have ever felt. Jarnell Stokes was an absolute beast once again, scoring a career-high 26 points and bringing in 14 rebounds as well, notching his 21st double-double of the season.
Josh Richardson continued his offensive surge, pouring in 15 points, dishing out 5 assists, and collecting 3 rebounds. Jeronne Maymon once again gave a gutty performance and scored 11 points to go along with 11 rebounds.
Tennessee never let UMass regain the lead after scoring the first bucket, and they didn’t let spirited point guard Chaz Williams beat them either. He was held below his averages in both points (12) and assists (5), and the Vols played excellent defense, especially in the 1st half, allowing only 22 points by halftime. The Big Orange also forced 13 turnovers and had their way with the UMass defense, finishing with an exceptional 53.6 field goal percentage for the game.
The Vols now advance to the Round of 32, but they will be facing an unexpected opponent this time around.
No. 14 seeded Mercer pulled off a major upset over No. 3 seeded Duke, muscling their way to a stunning 78-71 victory in the game before the Tennessee-UMass match-up. The Bears (27-8) bring an interesting challenge to the table, and here is how they stack up against the Vols:
For the third straight game, the Vols will be facing an efficient offensive team that can score the ball at will. They have averages of 79.3 points per game (25th in the NCAA), 38 rebounds per game (38th), 16.4 assists per game (10th), and have a field goal percentage of 47.5% (29th).
Mercer was able to defeat Duke with efficient play and playing good interior defense. Duke only shot 35.5% from the field and turned the ball over 12 times, and they limited freshman phenom Jabari Parker to 4 of 14 shooting and only 14 points.
Once again, a Tennessee opponent possesses a good bench. Mercer only has one player that averages double figures in scoring, and that’s 6’4″ senior guard Langston Hall with 14.7 points per game. Mercer has 6 players that average about 8 points or more per game, and they can get contributions from anyone on the team. They were led by Jakob Gollon against Duke. He scored 20 points, nearly 13 points better than his 7.8 points per game average.
Speaking of Hall, he is another point guard threat the Vols must contain. He averages 5.6 assists per game and 3.1 rebounds to go along with his 14.7 points, and while he is considerably taller (6’4″) than the speedy and small Chaz Williams of UMass, he is just as dangerous because of the match-up problem he poses.
The Bears do not possess overwhelming size, but they are more than capable of bringing down rebounds. Daniel Coursey stands 6’10″ and is their biggest presence, but they use their athletic ability from their multiple 6’6″ and 6’5″ guards to get rebounds.
A potential weakness for the Bears is their perimeter defense. Duke was able to hit 15 of of their 37 three point attempts, and if not for their terrible shooting otherwise, the Blue Devils could have survived. If the Vols can get hot from behind the 3-point arc, they stand a good chance of moving past Mercer.
The Mercer Bears are 1-2 versus teams that made the NCAA Tournament this year (counting the Duke game), losing to Texas and Oklahoma. They hold wins over Ole Miss and last year’s darlings, Florida Gulf Coast. They beat the Eagles for the Atlantic Sun title and come in just as hot as the Vols, winning 5 straight games and 6 of their last 7.
These two teams are actually relatively familiar with each other. Mercer beat the Vols last season 75-67 in Tennessee’s one and only NIT game. The only considerable differences to either roster are the departures of guard Travis Smith for Mercer and point guard Trae Golden for the Vols. Other than those two leaving and the arrival of Antonio Barton for Tennessee, these two teams are essentially the same teams that faced each other nearly a year ago in the 1st round of the NIT Tournament.