Last Updated: 2019-03-19
This could go down as the best season in school history for the No. 2 Tennessee Volunteers. The Volunteers had big aspirations going into the season, and they were ranked No. 1 for much of the year. They reeled off 19 straight wins at one point, and although they didn’t end up as a No. 1 seed after losing to Auburn twice in the final week, the Volunteers are poised to have their best performance in the NCAA Tournament yet. Tennessee is a heavy favorite over the No. 15 Colgate Raiders in their South Region First Round tilt on Friday.
Oddsmakers have installed Tennessee as a 17.5-point favorite over Colgate in the second game from Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio on Friday, March 22. The total is one of the higher ones of the day at 149 points. This South Region First Round game is scheduled to tip-off at 2:45 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on CBS. The winner will take on the winner of the earlier game between Iowa and Cincinnati on Sunday.
Tennessee doesn’t have much of a basketball pedigree, but Colgate has virtually none. The Raiders are taking part in just their third NCAA Tournament, and this will be their first appearance since Adonal Foyle was blocking shots across the country. They were a No. 16 seed in their previous appearances in 1995 and 1996, and while they lost, they covered the spread in both defeats. Colgate lost by 14 to Kansas in 1995 and by just 9 to Connecticut in 1996.
Few teams have been as snake-bitten as the Vols in the NCAA Tournament. This is the school’s 22nd trip to the Big Dance, but they have only made it to the Elite Eight one time and have no Final Four appearances. Tennessee was a No. 2 seed in 2006 and 2008, but lost to Wichita State in the Round of 32 in 2006 and got crushed by Louisville in the Sweet Sixteen in 2008. Last year, the Vols thought they were poised to make a strong run as a No. 3 seed, but they were stunned by Loyola-Chicago in the Round of 32.
How They Got Here
Colgate jockeyed with Bucknell and Lehigh for the right to represent the Patriot League for most of the season, and the Raiders ended up blasting Bucknell 94-80 in the Patriot League Championship Game for the automatic bid. They went 8-5 in non-conference play and lost by double digits to every power conference team they played, but they won 11 straight to end the season on a high note.
After beating Gonzaga in a thriller in December, we all knew Tennessee would make it to March Madness, the question is what seed they would get. The Volunteers didn’t have slip-ups against bad teams, and their only losses came against Kentucky, LSU, Auburn, and Kansas. They would have likely been in line for a No. 1 seed if they had won the SEC Championship Game, but a 20-point loss to Auburn meant the Selection Committee slotted them on the No. 2 line instead.
Tennessee has been one of the best teams in the country all year, and now it’s up for the Vols to finish strong. They have the third-best offense in the nation according to Ken Pomeroy, and they have a talented group of upperclassmen looking to take the team over the line. Admiral Schofield is the team’s leader, and he is one of the most efficient scorers in the country. Schofield is hitting better than 50 percent of his twos and more than 41 percent of his threes, and he is the player the Vols will turn to in the clutch.
Grant Williams is a big man that could play his way into the first round with a solid performance in March. He has been one of the top players in the country all year, and Ken Pomeroy rates him as the eighth-most valuable player in the country. He is one of the best big men in recent memory when it comes to hitting free throws (82.4 percent), and he is hitting almost 60 percent of his two-point attempts.
As a whole, Tennessee is incredible pretty much across the board on offense. They don’t turn the ball over and are in the top 20 in terms of effective field goal percentage, and they grab a decent amount of offensive boards too. The Vols don’t take a lot of threes, but they don’t need too, and their ability to set each other up is key with assists on 61 percent of their field goals.
The Raiders are going to do what small school teams usually do when they are outmatched. Take a lot of threes and hope for the best. Colgate is hitting 39.1 percent of its threes this season, so this is a team that will make you pay if you give them open looks. They are good at passing the ball around until someone gets open, and two big men are their deadliest options from range. 6’10 Rapolas Ivanauskas is hitting 43.3 percent of his threes this season, and 6’8 Will Rayman leads the team with a 44.8 percent rate. Colgate turns the ball over a lot though, and they must limit that to pull off the upset.
Pick: Tennessee Volunteers -17.5
It’s a lot of points to lay, but I think Tennessee gets the cover here. The Vols had no trouble with Wright State in a similar spot last year and they have the size along the perimeter to not be bothered by Colgate’s lanky three-point shooters. I think Tennessee will make this one a laugher by halftime.
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