For the first time since 2010, Tennessee basketball will make an appearance in the Sweet 16.
Despite an up-and-down season the Vols have pulled it together as of late to make one of the more impressive runs in the tournament as of late. Their latest victim was a little redemption from last season’s NIT first round game against Mercer.
Tennessee disposed of the Bears by an impressive 83-63 margin of victory, coming just days after Mercer pulled quite possibly the biggest upset of the tournament when they took down Duke on Friday afternoon.
The Vols were led in scoring by their lockdown defenseman Josh Richardson. Richardson has really caught fire as of late, scoring at least 15 points in the Vols’ first three outings of the tournament. He finished Sunday’s game with 26 points on nine-of-13 shooting from the field. With his only misses coming from the free-throw line and beyond-the-arc, Richardson has been perfect in his last two games from shots fired within the three-point line.
Jarnell Stokes also had another impressive showing in the Vols’ third round victory. He finished with his 22nd double-double of the season with 17 points and 18 rebounds, just one less rebound than Mercer as a team was able to pull in.
Mercer entered Sunday’s game with the right defensive mindset by playing a zone, and forcing Tennessee to hit shots from the outside, which they’ve struggled to do as of late. However, the Vols were able to take advantage of their open three-point opportunities this time by hitting six of their 22 shots taken from beyond-the-arc.
The most notable performance shooting from the outside came from Antonio Barton, who made an offensive reappearance for the first time since the end of the regular season. Barton finished with 18 points, while hitting four-of-nine shots from three-point land.
Even when Tennessee missed on their open three-point opportunities, they were still able to take advantage of the size they had inside with Stokes and Jeronne Maymon. The “Bruise Brothers,” as they’ve been called over the past few games, pulled in a combined 10 offensive rebounds in which most of them led to second-chance points on the inside.
The Vols have now won eight of their last nine games after sweeping the weekend in Raleigh, N.C. They’ve also helped improve the SEC to a 7-0 record in this year’s tournament which ranks tops among all conferences in the NCAA tournament.
What now awaits Tennessee is their toughest challenge yet since beginning their tournament, the Michigan Wolverines.
Michigan will provide a challenge for the Vols as they like to get out and make the game a track meet when possible, and will bring in one of the best sharp shooters in the nation from beyond-the-arc in Nik Stauskas.
Stauskas averages 16 points per game, and shoots an average of nearly 47 percent from three. One of the biggest keys for the Vols to obtain victory will be controlling the tempo of the game, continuing to limit turnovers, and keep Stauskas from getting open looks. If they can do that, the Vols may just advance to their second Elite Eight appearance in school history (the first coming in 2010).
Tennessee and Michigan will tip-off on Friday, March at 7:15 p.m. in the Midwest regional semifinals in Indianapolis, Ind.