NCAA Tournament round-by-round prediction: How long can Tennessee dance?
Assuming Tennessee left its worst effort of the season in Nashville on Sunday, there is plenty of reason to think the Vols can advance deep into the NCAA Tournament. However, their draw certainly didn’t do them any favors.
UT is the No. 2 in the South Region after being drubbed 84-64 by Auburn in the SEC Championship Game. Had the Vols won the SEC Tournament, UT could have been a No. 1 seed for the first time. Nevertheless, Tennessee has accomplished plenty this season and should be commended for their 29-5 run. Now, it’s time for the Vols to prove just how worthy they are of their No. 2 seed.
Here’s a round-by-round prediction of who we expect the Vols to face and we think they’ll fare.
First Round: vs. No. 15 Colgate
The Vols will begin play Friday against Colgate at 2:40 EST in Columbus, Ohio. The Vols are 0-2 all-time against Colgate but those losses came in 1955 and 1960 so there’s no real history to speak of. This is the first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1996 for Colgate, which won the Patriot League. Barring a monumental upset, the Vols should handle their opening round game easily.
Chances Tennessee wins: 99-percent
Second Round: vs. No. 7 Cincinnati or No. 10 Iowa
Tennessee should be rooting for an upset by Iowa over Cincinnati just in terms of not having to play the Bearcats in their home state. That would surely give Cincy a home-court advantage even though UT fans figure to travel well give how successful and likable these Vols have been.
As for the Hawkeyes, they would really have to turn things around to have much tournament success. Iowa has lost 6 of its past 8 games as its defense has struggled. Cincinnati is in a much different position. The Bearcats play fantastic defense and have good guard play, led by Jarron Cumberland.
Chance Tennessee beats Cincinnati: 70-percent, Iowa: 80-percent
Sweet 16: vs. No. 6 Villanova or No. 3 Purdue
Barring a Cinderella run by No. 11 St. Mary’s or No. 14 Old Dominion, the Vols will face Villanova or Purdue in the Sweet 16. That’s daunting to say the least. UT would certainly have the edge in leadership as Purdue managed through their season after losing a talented senior class. The Boilermakers rely on 3-point shooting for their success. Guard Carsen Edwards’ success or lack thereof seems to determine how much success Purdue will have. The Vols will need to limit Edwards and not get into a 3-point shooting contest if they face Purdue.
As for Villanova, this certainly isn’t last year’s national championship team. The Wildcats don’t have the same depth of last year’s squad. However, Villanova does have two all Big-East first-team players in guard Phil Booth and forward Eric Paschall. The Wildcats are also led by one of the best coaches in college basketball: Jay Wright.
Chance Tennessee beats Purdue: 60-percent, Villanova: 60-percent
Elite Eight: vs. No. 1 Virginia
This would be a potentially epic battle of two teams that play old-school basketball in the post and strong defense. It might not be pretty, but it would be an intriguing test for both teams.
Virginia has something to prove after being the first No. 1 seed to lose its opening round game, which it did last year to No. 16 UMBC. The Cavaliers are known for falling short in the NCAA Tournament, so there’s no guarantee the Vols will even have to face them despite the Cavs being the No. 1 seed in the South Region. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Ole Miss, Wisconsin or Kansas State go deeper in the tournament than Virginia.
Chances to beat Virginia: 70-percent
Final Four: vs. No. 1 North Carolina
North Carolina has been a lock to pick up a No. 1 seed for most of the season. Having done that, the Heels are the most likely team to come out of the Midwest Region. The Tar Heels are their usual selves: long, athletic, deep and talented. This UNC team shoots (and makes) more 3s than Roy Williams’ typical squads. As mentioned previously, the Vols can’t get caught up in a 3-point shooting contest with any team and be at its best.
Chances to beat North Carolina: 30-percent
Championship Game: vs. No. 1 Duke or No. 1 Gonzaga
If the Vols make it this far, they’ll prove they belong among college basketball’s elite programs. Duke would be a fascinating matchup, especially since the Vols and Blue Devils battled for the AP No. 1 ranking for a month of the season. Oh, and they also have some guy named “Zion.”
Gonzaga isn’t as well known as Duke in this part of their country, but the Zags have been to 8 consecutive Sweet 16s — the longest streak in the country. They lost the 2017 NCAA championship game to UNC.
Gonzaga held on to a No. 1 seed, but losing to St. Mary’s in the West Coast Conference Tournament surely doesn’t sit well with Mark Few’s crew.
Chances to beat Duke: 30-percent, Gonzaga 30-percent
Tennessee’s most likely result
The Vols are one of the best teams in the country despite the way they ended the SEC Tournament. However, Rick Barnes’ teams have a habit of underachieving in the NCAA Tournament. The Sweet 16 seems well within UT’s reach. That should be the bare minimum for this team.