Tennessee Volunteers vs Saint Peter's preview, odds, and predictions

Tennessee basketball will face Saint Peter's in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, looking to keep their season alive with a deep postseason run.

Florida Atlantic v Tennessee
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24-8. 534. 9:20 PM ET. 2405. TNT. Thursday, March 21. Tennessee vs Saint Peter's. 19-13.

Rick Barnes and Tennessee basketball is preparing its debut in the NCAA Tournament with their first-round matchup against Saint Peter's. The Vols come into the tournament as the No. 2 seed in the Midwest region and the No. 5 seed overall.

This is the fourth time in school history the Vols come into the NCAA Tournament as a two-seed, just missing out on their first No. 1 seed in school history after their embarrassing loss to Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament Quarterfinals.

Tennessee currently sits as 21.5-point favorites, according to Fanduel. The over/under sits at 129.5 at the time I am writing this article. While Vegas is listing Tennessee as a huge favorite coming into their first-round matchup, they must remember that it means nothing regarding March Madness.

Saint Peter's has been in this spot before. In 2022, the Peacocks were the 15-seed, facing a top SEC opponent as 18-point underdogs. The points total was set at 132, so they came into a scenario that was very similar to the one they had during the 2022 NCAA Tournament.

Every player transferred after their 2022 March Madness run, and the head coach left for greener pastures. While this year's Saint Peter's team is completely different from the 2022 team, you still have to understand the Peacocks' threat in this year's tournament.

The Peacocks come into the tournament on fire. They have won eight of their last ten, averaging 67.2 points, 60.9 points against, and 37.6 rebounds while shooting 41.5% from the field over that period.

Saint Peter's has a strong defense, especially around the perimeter. If Tennessee wants to defeat 2022's Cinderella, they will have to do so inside the three-point line. The Peacocks will try to double team and press the Vols around the perimeter and force them to move the ball to find the open shot. 

If Tennessee can take advantage of the Peacocks' focus on the perimeter and likely prioritize neutralizing Dalton Knecht, they can establish their offense in the interior and in the paint. This is how Tennessee is going to win their first-round game and many more after that.

Corey Washington is one of the main performers for Saint Peter's. He averaged 16.5 points and 6.6 rebounds this season. He also poses a post presence and could cause problems for Tennessee if Jonas Aidoo and Tobe Awaka don't bring their best.

Aidoo has stepped up throughout this season, has become a valuable asset to Tennessee, and helps the Vols establish strong, physical play down low. This has been a staple of their play down the stretch this year and can be a game-changer against teams with a poor post presence.

The senior leadership of Santiago Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James has also carried Tennessee. Their experience under Barnes has helped them carry the Vols throughout tough stretches during the season without the ball in their hands.

They are the epitome of Vol for Life and deserve a deep run in the NCAA Tournament to end their college basketball careers. That might require them to play a little more with the ball in their hands and make some important shots for the Vols down the stretch.

It will also be important for the Vols to stay out of foul trouble. If Tennessee falls into foul trouble, especially with their forwards, and is forced to keep the ball around the perimeter, we could see scoring droughts similar to when Tennessee faced the same scenario against Alabama, where the Vols struggled to score throughout most of the game.

If the Vols can do this, they will win their first-round matchup. Dalton Knecht doesn't have to continue scoring 30+ points per game for Tennessee to be successful in the tournament. Everyone knows what he can do, and defenses will look to eliminate him as much as possible.

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Tennessee tips off Thursday at 9:20 PM ET and will look to keep their season alive, while the Saint Peter's Peacocks look to emulate their 2022 Elite Eight run with a first-round win.