The Tennessee Volunteers have the biggest chance of being a Cinderella story in the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee already has created some chaos as they defeated UMass pretty handily, and are now moving on to the second round. The Volunteers now have the chance to make history and be mentioned in the same topic as, "Greatest Cinderella stories ever."
Their story started against UMass yesterday. I saw Tennessee win the battle in the paint and outside the three point line. Their big men in the paint, Jeronnne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes, completely annihilated UMass in the paint as they scored a combined 37 points and grabbed 25 rebounds. UMass had 3 big men on the floor, and still couldn't contain Tennessee's Maymon and Stokes.
On the outside, Tennessee has Jordan McRae, who is very underrated in the NCAA. McRae is averaging nearly 20 PPG and displayed his talent yesterday, as he scored 21 points and shot 56% from the floor. McRae and Tennessee were also working on the defensive end, as they forced the UMass guards into 9 turnovers!
Finally, Tennessee was able to defeat UMass because of their efficient offense. Tennessee has a starting lineup of 3 seniors and 2 juniors, and have been playing together for 3 years now. Their mix of chemistry and talent showed last night as they were getting open looks and knocking them down. Even when they were not open, the big men or Jordan McRae would make a contested lay up or jumper! Tennessee was getting out on the fast break, making great passes, and finishing with skill.
At the end of the day, Tennessee walked out with a 86-67 win over UMass, and a chance to continue a Cinderella story.
Now, UMass has to face the biggest Cinderella story of the Tournament so far: The Mercer Bears. The Mercer Bears defeated Jabari Parker and the Duke Blue Devils 78-71 on Friday. Mercer defeated Jabari and the Blue Devils with efficient offense (Which came from experience and playing together for four years) and great defense against Duke. Mercer's offense looked so smooth and efficient, and it showed in the last couple of minutes.
While Duke was playing one on one the last stretch of the game, Mercer was setting ball screens, off ball screens, back cuts, and using each other's talent and experience to their advantage. Mercer was able to score on 9 out of 10 possessions after the 3 minute mark, while Duke scored on only 3 out of 10 possessions.
Now, the two Cinderella stories will be going head to head for a chance to face Michigan (Or Texas if Michigan is upset). When I saw the match ups between the two, I saw evenly matched teams. However, when I took a closer look, I saw Tennessee has a huge advantage.
Both teams have a play making guard by names of Jordan McRae (Tennessee) and Langston Hall (Mercer), and their offense starts with them. McRae is averaging 19 PPG and 3 APG, while Langston is more of an assister as he averages 15 PPG and 6 APG. Either way, both teams run through these men.
Tennessee and Mercer also BOTH have great experience. Mercer, as we all know, has 5 senior starters and have been playing together for 4 years. Tennessee, however, is no young and inexperienced team. Tennessee starts 3 seniors and 2 juniors, and their offense is efficient as well. The biggest part of Tennessee's game, however, is defense. They have the 17th best defense in the NCAA and like to shut down offensive teams. It will be a great battle to see Mercer's experienced offense go against Tennessee's efficient defense.
Finally, the deciding factor, for me, is Mercer's disadvantage in the paint. The only reason Duke scored 71 points on Mercer was because of Duke's 16 offensive rebounds. Now, Mercer is facing a bigger team, with two big men who average 18 rebounds a game. I see Jarnell Stokes and Jeronnne Maymon completely annihilating Mercer in the paint. Now, unlike Duke, they have experience and a talent advantage. Unless Mercer can pull off a miracle, I see Tennessee defeating Mercer.
After Mercer, Tennessee will most likely face Michigan. Michigan is led by a bunch of sophomores and freshmen, and then one senior on the entire team. Overall, Michigan's starting lineup consists of 2 freshmen, 2 sophomores, and one senior (Jordan Morgan). Right off the bat, Tennessee has an experience advantage. And we all saw what happens when experience and chemistry faces talent and no chemistry (DUKE VS MERCER).
Of course, a team must still have talent in order to win games. Tennessee has a ton of talent, as they have 2 giants in the paint (Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon), who average 25 PPG and 18 TRB. On the outside, Jordan McRae is averaging 19 PPG and is a great one on one player (If Tennessee needs to play one on one). These three men will eat up Michigan's mediocre defense, especially the big men. Maymon and Stokes are the main culprits for Tennessee's great rebounding team (12th in offensive rebounds in the nation), and will eat up Michigan's poor rebounding squad (219th best rebounding team in the nation).
Michigan, like Tennessee, also has a lot of talent. Michigan has Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, and Glenn Robinson, who are all averaging a combined 46 PPG. Tennessee will have to find a way to stop these three young men, and continue their great defense, which they have played all year.
At the end of the day, Michigan's mediocre defense, rebounding, and lack of experience will fall to Tennessee's great mix of experience, talent, defense, and rebounding. After Michigan, it's too difficult to predict who Tennessee would face, but whoever they face, has to be careful when facing Tennessee.
What do you think? Will Tennessee make the Elite Eight? Will they even beat the Mercer Bears? Share your opinions in the comment section below.