Tennessee basketball faces scary first-round opponent

The NCAA Tournament bracket has been released and Tennessee basketball will face the same team that made it to the Elite Eight in 2022 as a 15-seed.
Tennessee v Alabama
Tennessee v Alabama / Brandon Sumrall/GettyImages

Tennessee basketball has found its spot in the NCAA Tournament. The Vols had the opportunity to clinch a one-seed in this year's tournament before losing to Mississippi State in the quarterfinals in the SEC Tournament.

That loss moved the Vols down a spot in the overall seeding. Instead of being the No. 2 seed in the West region, they will be the No. 2 seed in the Midwest. The Vols still come into the tournament as the No. 5 overall seed, but were removed from contention for the No. 1 seed in the West after North Carolina's run to the ACC Tournament Championship.

The Vols' new ranking could prove beneficial if they can advance past the tournament's first weekend. If the Gamecocks can win round one and upset Creighton, the Vols could find themselves in a rematch against South Carolina in the Sweet 16 in Detroit, Michigan. Then the Vols could be staring down the barrel of Purdue for a spot in the Final Four. 

Charlotte will host the Vols in their opening game against No. 15 Saint Peter's, which went 19-13 on the year with a 12-8 record in conference play. The Peacocks defeated Fairfield to lock in their spot in the tournament, and they are the team Joe Lunardi projected Tennessee to play in the first round.

Tennessee opens as an 18.5-point favorite over the Peacocks, according to Fanduel's opening lines for the first round of March Madness.

What do we know about No. 15 Saint Peter's?

To start, the Peacocks have their own version of Zakai Zeigler. His name is Armoni Zeigler, and he is Zakai's brother. He's only a freshman and has yet to form into the same player Zakai has developed into at Tennessee, but he can still be a productive player for Saint Peter's. Regardless, seeing the Zeigler family celebrate a family accomplishment like this after everything Zakai has overcome throughout college is exciting.

Saint Peter's also has some experience as a 15-seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Peacocks held the No. 15 spot in the East regional in the 2022 tournament. They took full advantage of their entry into the tournament and did the unthinkable.

The Peacocks started their 2022 tournament run with a win over No. 2 Kentucky, then defeated No. 7 Murray State. They finished it off with a win over No. 3 Purdue before losing to No. 8 North Carolina in the regional final. Saint Peter's has been here before, and they can be dangerous regardless of their rank.

While Saint Peter's sounds threatening, the entire team that went on their run in 2022 is no longer in Jersey City, New Jersey. Every player, including head coach Shaheen Holloway, left the program after their Cinderella run. That doesn't mean they won't be able to pull the same magic out of the hat that captured America on their exciting run two years ago.

Forward Corey Washington does a lot for the Peacocks and can be part of the winning recipe for Saint Peter's if they want to pull off the upset. Washington averages 16.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game and is shooting 46.6% from the field this year. He also earned the MAAC Tournament Most Outstanding Player award, leading the Peacocks on their title run.

All four conference tournament opponents swept the Peacocks during the regular season. That doesn't mean much, though, when the calendar hits March. Some crazy things can happen in the NCAA Tournament, and Tennessee will need to bring its A-game if it plans to keep its season alive past Thursday.

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Tennessee and Saint Peter's will tip off on March 21 at 9:30 PM ET, with the Vols looking to find their rhythm again and pick up some momentum early in the NCAA Tournament.