The Big Dance is finally here and 5 Seed Tennessee will take on 12 seed Oregon State in the 1st round of the NCAA Tournament.
Tip-off is at 4:30 pm and the game will be televised on TNT.
The Vols and Beavers will face each other at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana.
This is the 3rd straight NCAA Tournament appearance for Rick Barnes and the Vols.
The Vols are coming off a loss to Alabama in the SEC Semifinals.
The Vols led by as much as 15 points against the Crimson Tide before Alabama made a comeback to win.
This is the 2nd time Tennessee has ever been a 5 seed, the last time going back to 2007.
Oregon State Beavers are red hot at the moment.
The Beavers won 3 straight games and the Pac-12 Tournament to earn the automatic bid.
The Beavers also have won 7 of their last 9 games.
This is the first NCAA Tournament appearance has made since 2016.
The winner of Tennessee vs Oregon State will either play 4 seed Oklahoma State or 13 seed Liberty.
In order for Tennessee to defeat the Pac-12 Tournament champions, here is what the Vols must do to beat Oregon State:
Contain Ethan Thompson and Jarod Lucas:
If there are two players that Tennessee needs to make sure don’t get hot it’s guards Ethan Thompson and Jarod Lucas.
Thompson leads the Beavers in scoring averaging 15.3 points a game.
Despite only scoring just 7 points in the Pac-12 Title game, Thompson still managed to average 13.6 points a game in the Pac-12 Tournament.
Thompson also leads the team in an assists 3.9 assists a game.
Thompson is a player that is great with the basketball and can make great plays.
But Tennessee also needs to watch out for guard Jarod Lucas.
Lucas is 2nd on the team in points per game averaging 12.9.
Lucas has been playing great basketball as well, averaging 16 points a game in the last 6 games.
Lucas is Oregon State’s 3-point specialist you could say.
Lucas went 5-10 in their quarterfinal win over UCLA.
He loves to shoot the three-pointer and if Tennessee gives him some open looks to start off the game, the Vols could be in trouble.
Keon and Springer Continue Their Great Play:
Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer must continue to play in the great form they are in at the moment.
It’s make it or break it for this team and especially for the Freshman duo, they have to play great basketball if they want to make it out of the first weekend.
Keon Johnson has been playing some of his best basketball recently, coming off a 20 point performance against Alabama and averaging 14 points a game in his last 5 performances.
The same can be said for Jaden Springer, who leads the team in scoring with 12.5 ppg and 14.6 points in his last 5 games as well.
Despite their great run of games, both had their struggles in the loss to Alabama, combing for 10 turnovers.
Both guards are peaking at the right time and they need to continue that trend come Friday.
Springer and Johnson are both predicted to be 1st round picks so this will likely be it for them.
They must take over the game, if they can do that the Vols will advance to the 2nd round.
Find Answers Inside:
As we get closer and closer to game time, it looks more and more likely that Senior Forward John Fulkerson will not be playing Friday.
This is a gut punch for the Vols considering that Fulkerson came off a season-best performance in the regular-season finale.
But obviously, the show must go on and so does Tennessee.
This means Tennessee is going to have to find some answers for their inside game.
Most likely, the Vols will have Yves Pons at the 5, Jordan-James at the 4, and Bailey Jr, Keon, and Springer at the guard positions.
But this means that one of the Vols centers on the bench is going to have to step up, either Olivier Nkamhoua or Uros Plavsic.
Plavsic had arguably his best performance of his Tennessee career on Saturday, scoring 4 points, grabbing 3 rebounds, 2 steals, and an assist.
Now while his numbers weren’t flashy, he made an impact on the court and played great defensively.
That is what this team needs more than anything.
If Plavsic or Nkamhoua can step up and get some rebounds while Pons or Jordan-James are resting, Tennessee can come out with a win.
Make The 3 Ball:
Once again, Tennessee can’t wait long to figure out their inconsistencies with the 3 ball, it’s make or break for the Vols.
Tennessee has to be able to get hot and make the 3-ball.
Vols struggled in their loss to Alabama with the 3-ball, shooting only 33%.
Victor Bailey Jr struggled from the three against the Tide, going 0-4.
Santiago Vescovi has been in great form recently from the 3 point line, but he is the only player that has been consistent.
Bailey Jr, Keon Johnson, Jaden Springer, and Jordan-James are all guys that need to step up.
Oregon State is the lowest seeded team that is from a Power 5 conference and only made the tournament because of their run in the Pac-12 Tournament.
But overall, Tennessee is a far better basketball team than Oregon State.
If the Vols can contain OSU’s guard duo Thompson and Lucas, have Keon and Jaden continue to play great ball, find answers for their inside game and make 3 balls, Tennessee will cruise to a victory and will play either Oklahoma State or Liberty.