Tennessee basketball faces elite backcourt in Sweet Sixteen

Tennessee will face Creighton on Friday, who boasts one of the best shooting backcourts in the nation.

Providence v Creighton
Providence v Creighton / Sarah Stier/GettyImages

Tennessee basketball is preparing for its third trip to the Sweet Sixteen under Rick Barnes, and it will face one of the most consistently good programs in the country. Creighton is one of five college basketball programs to win 22+ games in each of the last five seasons. 

Head coach Greg McDermott has the Blue Jays rolling, clinching their third Sweet Sixteen appearance since 2021 and the sixth appearance in program history. That also comes with an unreal backcourt for the Vols to defend when they play later this week. 

The Blue Jays are also looking to return to the Final Four after being bounced by San Diego State last season. This creates a dangerous combination for a Tennessee team that has been struggling offensively. If Tennessee can't bring the same level of defense they brought against Texas, they could be in trouble early.

Creighton's big three in the backcourt have helped the Blue Jays earn recognition as one of the most efficient offenses in the country. KenPom ranks 11th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, while Tennessee sits at 30th in the same statistic.

Baylor Scheierman leads the Blue Jays offensively, but don't count out Trey Alexander or center Ryan Kalkbrenner. All three players average over 17 points per game this year and have carried Creighton to great success. 

Kalkbrenner will challenge Tennessee's forwards and will be a great test for the Vols if they can survive Creighton and move on to play Purdue and Zach Edey. Their backcourt could also cause major problems for the Vols. Along with Scheierman and Alexander, the Vols must also focus on Steven Ashworth.

Not only are those guys good but they shoot a lot of threes. Creighton shoots more threes than anyone in the country. As a team that just shot 3-for-25 from three, Tennessee should focus on limiting Creighton from deep and applying pressure around the perimeter to minimize the Blue Jays' opportunities to get hot.

Scheierman led Creighton in their win over Oregon. It would take some grit late in that game for either team to win, and Scheierman went straight to the paint to get his points when the Blue Jays needed them. This was the formula Creighton needed to complete the comeback and send the game into overtime.

Creighton shot four-of-eight from three, with three of those coming in the second overtime. That was enough to finally put Oregon away in double overtime. Although Creighton loves to shoot the three, they heavily relied on getting their points in the paint when needed before leaning on their three-point shot again in overtime.

It was evident against Oregon that Creighton was made for fast-paced games like that one and could outlast anyone in the country. Oregon was hanging on by a thread after the first overtime, which was evident in the second overtime period.

Tennessee could have some trouble defending Creighton if they try to tempo the Vols. Tennessee's defense, led by Zakai Zeigler, will be prepared to stop the Blue Jays, but occasional slip-ups throughout the game can allow big offensive runs.

This matchup reminds me a lot of Tennessee's games against Alabama. The Tide have one of the country's best offenses and get many of their points from three-point shots. Barnes should prepare a game plan similar to what Tennessee brought to Alabama to sweep them in their season series.

I'm sure there will be a phone call or two between Barnes and Kim English, former Tennessee assistant and current Providence head coach. Providence is the only team to have beaten Creighton twice this season, so English was doing something right against the Blue Jays this year.

This game could put the "Madness" in March Madness, with both offenses being streaky, led by seniors, and love to shoot the three. It's not a guarantee either team will make their threes, as we saw in the first half of both games, but when they do make their shots, it can lead to offensive runs and change momentum.

dark. Next. Takeaways from Tennessee's tough win over Texas. Takeaways from Tennessee's tough win over Texas

The Vols and Blue Jays will tip off on Friday, and a bid to the Elite Eight is on the line. Tennessee's defense will be one of the best Creighton has faced all season, but it might take the Vols to start knocking down some threes to win this game.