The Tennessee Volunteers watched their season crumble down the stretch. After starting the year with a 23-1 record and being considered the best team in college basketball, the Vols lost four of their last 10 games, including the regular season finale and SEC Tournament championship game, both against the red-hot Auburn Tigers. It’s safe to say head coach Rick Barnes’ squad is playing with a sour taste in their mouth.
Tennessee fell short of all their goals to this point in the season, and that’s exactly what makes them dangerous. A veteran team with nothing to lose is hard to ignore, especially when the Volunteers are sitting in the perfect region to reach the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four for the first time in program history.
The Volunteers averaged 82.3 points per game this season (18th in NCAA) and made 49.8 percent of their shots as a team (6th in NCAA). Their top six scorers are all upperclassmen and four of them shoot better than 80 percent from the free throw line. This team can score both efficiently and in bunches against any team in the college basketball.
Everything is stacking up in Tennessee’s favor. The South Region may not have glamorous teams who put up a lot of points, but there’s one metric they all have in common that is impossible to ignore: pace of play.
Here are the teams in Tennessee region and where they rank based on the number of possessions they have per game. Of the other 15 teams in the South, 10 of them rank among the 50 slowest teams in the country teams.
Keep in mind: there are 353 teams that played Division I college basketball this season.
1. Virginia — Slowest (61.1 poss. per game)
3. Purdue — 40th
4. Kansas State — 16th
5. Wisconsin — 14th
6. Villanova — 19th
7. Cincinnati — 15th
11. Saint Mary’s — 10th
12. Oregon — 31st
13. UC-Irvine — 43rdAdvertisement
14. Old Dominion — 25th
Every single one of these teams plays a slow, methodical game that plays into Tennessee’s hands perfectly. The Vols are led by experience — SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams and senior guard Admiral Schofield can play with anyone in the country. They are paced by point guard Jordan Bone, a second-team All-SEC performer during the season. Plus, they’re getting 6-foot-11 senior Kyle Alexander back into form at the perfect time. If any team can outplay a slow team, it’s going to be a smart one.
The only team that scores as efficiently as Tennessee in this region is Virginia, but they too need to first survive until the Elite Eight to even meet the Volunteers. Despite earning a No. 1 seed in three of the last five years, Virginia has never reached the Final Four playing this style under coach Tony Bennett.
Don’t forget, the Cavaliers became the first No. 1 seed that lost to a 16-seed last year at the hands of UMBC.
The Tennessee basketball team had the world on its plate this year, but late losses to Kentucky, LSU and Auburn killed their momentum. This team has all the makings of a national champion as long as they don’t let a bunch of slow moving teams get in their head and knock them off their game. Those teams aren’t as talented, not as experienced, and haven’t been in the spotlight like the Volunteers.
The biggest unknown facing Tennessee is if they can compete at a high level away from Knoxville, where they were a perfect 18-0 during the regular season. Should they reach the second round, they’d potentially play Cincinnati, whose campus is about an hour and a half from where the game would be played in Columbus, Ohio.
Basically, the team in the South with the best chance to beat Tennessee is themselves.
The Vols open the first round against the 15-seed Colgate Raiders on Friday afternoon.