Tennessee coasted to a 73–47 win over Wright State on Thursday afternoon to advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Looking to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2014, the Vols will be taking on Loyola-Chicago.
The Ramblers of Loyola-Chicago are coming off of a historic win over Miami. With 0.3 seconds remaining, Donte Ingram drilled a three-pointer to propel No. 11 seed Loyola to a 64–62 win over sixth-seeded Miami.
Ingram’s historic shot gave the Ramblers their 29th win of the season, matching their 1962–63 NCAA Championship Team for the most victories in school history. A win over the Vols on Saturday night would give Loyola-Chicago its first ever 30-win season.
Coach Porter Moser has guided the Ramblers to arguably their best season in school history. In his 7th season at Loyola, he’s got his team playing its best basketball at the right time.
Loyola enters Saturday’s contest having won 18 of the last 19 games, including each of the last 11. The Ramblers are making their sixth all-time NCAA Tourney appearance after defeating Illinois State 65–49 to win the Missouri Valley Conference Championship Game.
The Ramblers resemble Tennessee in many ways. They play tough defense, they take good care of the basketball and they shoot at a similar clip.
Just like Tennessee, defense is Loyola’s bread-and-butter. According to KenPom, the Ramblers’ defense ranks 27th nationally. Averaging 6.6 steals per game, Loyola holds opponents to 62.2 points per game. Led by the Missouri Valley Defensive Player of the Year Ben Richardson, the Ramblers have held opponents to under 60 points an impressive 15 different times.
In the last four games, the Ramblers’ defense has held opponents to 53.8 points per game on 40 percent shooting from the field and 27.3 percent from three.
Offensively, Missouri Valley Player of the Year Clayton Custer leads the way. Custer, who averages 13.4 points per game on 45 percent shooting from three, leads a Ramblers offense that averages 72.2 points per game. With Custer in the lineup, Loyola has a 1.41 assist-to-turnover ratio and are averaging 73.7 points per game. Without him, those numbers dip to 0.77 and 63.6 points.
Along with the conference player and defensive player of the year, Loyola also has the Missouri Valley Freshman Player of the Year on its team. 6-foor-9 center Cameron Krutwig anchors the post averaging 10.5 and 6.3 rebounds. Krutwig has scored double-figures in 14 out of the last 17 games.
Aundre Jackson is deadly on the wing and always shows up in big moments. Against ranked teams this year, the Missouri Valley Conference Sixth Man of the Year is averaging 17.5 points per game on 67 percent shooting.
While this is the first tournament appearance in 33 years for Loyola, it doesn’t necessarily lack experience. Carson Shanks is a graduate transfer from North Dakota who scored five points against Arizona in a 2017 Tournament game while Marques Townes scored 13 points against Florida Gulf Coast in 2016 while he played at Fairleigh Dickinson. Custer was a part of the 2015 Iowa State team that played UAB in the tournament, though he didn’t receive any playing time.
After sitting out last season due to transfer, Townes is one of two Ramblers to start all 34 games this season. When Townes dishes out at least three assists, Loyola is 16–0. On the season, Townes is scoring 12.2 points per game and shooting 50 percent from the field.
As the country saw with his buzzer-beating three against Miami, Ingram is one of the best three-point shooters in the country. A Second Team All-Missouri Valley Conference member, Ingram has knocked down 70 three-pointers this season. Loyola is 20–3 this season when he makes three or more.
While the name may not do it justice, the Vols are in for a fight when they square off with Loyola-Chicago on Saturday evening. If Tennessee doesn’t show up ready to play, it’ll see its season come to an end in short order.
While all of the attention has been on the men’s team in Dallas, Holly Warlick and the Lady Vols kicked off their NCAA Tournament run with a 100–60 drubbing of Liberty on Friday afternoon inside Thompson Boling Arena.
“I’m really proud of our young ladies,” Warlick said following the win. “They played hard and we got a lot of people playing time. They did an outstanding job.”
The senior combination of Mercedes Russell and Jaime Nared have led the Lady Vols (25–7) throughout the season, but on Friday, it was freshman Rennia Davis and junior Cheridene Green who stepped up and led the way.
Seven Lady Vols scored in double-figures against Liberty, but it was Davis who led the way with a double-double in her first career NCAA Tournament game. The freshman tallied 18 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and a steal to spark a 38-point third quarter performance.
“We talked about how we weren’t getting enough transition points,” Davis said when asked about what changed during halftime to allow Tennessee to shoot such a high percentage in the second half. “Our game is playing fast and getting fast break points. I think we tried to focus more on that in the second half.”
The one thing that didn’t change from the first half to the second half was the effectiveness of Tennessee’s full court pressure.
While the Lady Vols struggled to shoot the basketball in the opening twenty minutes, — scoring just 36 of their 100 points in the first half — their full court pressure allowed the offense some time to find a rhythm.
On the afternoon, Tennessee forced 21 Liberty (24–10) turnovers, leading to 30 Lady Vols points. The Lady Vols had their fair share of turnovers (18) on the afternoon, but they made up for it by winning all of the hustle stats.
“We want to turn you over,” Warlick said. “It gives us an opportunity to get easier baskets and that’s what we do. We want to get you turned over and attack the basket and when we score we’re going to come right back at you.”
Tennessee did just that, out-scoring the Lady Flames 30–11 in points off turnovers, 21–5 in fast-break points and 39–19 in bench points.
“A couple of things we wanted to focus on were great ball pressure, denying one pass away and keeping them off of the offensive boards,” Warlick said. “Offensively we wanted to hit shots in the paint.”
Just like the hustle stats, Warlick’s squad checked off those boxes on the game plan as well.
Liberty averages just over 14 offensive rebounds per game, but the Lady Flames tallied 11 rebounds on the offensive glass against the Lady Vols. In the paint, Tennessee out-scored Liberty 60–28.
Green sparked the performance on the glass and in the paint, scoring 15 points and hauling in 12 rebounds to post a double-double in her first career NCAA tournament game. Leading just 7–6 in the first quarter, the London native sparked an 11–0 Lady Vol run to propel Tennessee to its first double-digit lead of the game.
“Cheridene has that impact on us,” Warlick said. “I love how she competes and I thought she did a great job. We put her in and she really worked hard at her game. I thought she got up and down the floor really well.”
“I just made sure to come in with the same tempo and impact that I’ve been trying to have,” Green said. “One of the main things I tried to focus on today was boxing out and going after every ball. I wanted to stay aggressive on defense.”
With the win, Tennessee now has 25 wins on the season for the 35th time in program history. The win also improves the Lady Vols record at home in the NCAA Tournament to 57–0 and 30–1 in first round games.
Tennessee will now face Oregon State (24–7) in the second round on Sunday in Knoxville. The time of the game has not yet been announced.
Tennessee handled business on Thursday afternoon, beating Wright State 73–47 to advance to the second round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
“Obviously we’re happy with the win,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said following the game. “Defensively we were really pretty good today against a team that’s not a very easy team to guard.”
In the win, Admiral Schofield, Lamonte Turner and Grant Williams led the Vols with double-digit scoring performances while anchoring a tremendous defensive effort. With the win, Tennessee advances to play Loyola-Chicago on Saturday, who’s coming off an upset win over Miami on a buzzer-beating three.
Here’s some takeaways from the Vols’ dominating performance in the opening round of the tournament over the Raiders…
Defense and rebounding lead the way
Tennessee won by 26 on Thursday, but the Vols were noticeably jittery to begin the game and rightfully so as it was the first NCAA Tournament appearance for everyone on the roster.
This may be knit-picking, but I thought the guys missed several shots that they normally make in the opening minutes of the game. Tennessee shot 42 percent in the first half, but it took them a while to get going on the offensive end.
While trying to find its rhythm offensively, Tennessee’s defense dominated allowing Tennessee some breathing room while the offense caught up.
The mantra that “defense wins championships” rung true in the opening round. Wright State scored a season-low 67 points as the Vols blocked six shots and picked up six steals. In what was the fewest points Tennessee has ever allowed in an NCAA Tournament game, — the previous record was 51 on two occasions — the Vols held the Raiders to 32 percent shooting from the field.
Both Admiral Schofield and Kyle Alexander had two blocks on the afternoon.
Rebounding has been a bugaboo for the Vols at times this season and has often been an indication of whether Tennessee wins or not. Against Wright State, the Vols dominated the glass, out-rebounding the Raiders 44–32.
Schofield hauled in 12 rebounds while Grant William grabbed nine.
“Really, I’ve just been pursuing the ball more,” Williams said of his recent rebounding surge. “But recently I’ve been being more aggressive.”
Schofield, Williams and Turner prove to be too much
Simply put, Wright State didn’t have an answer for Schofield, Williams or Lamonte Turner. The trio of Vol leaders combined for 48 points on 16-of-36 shooting while also hauling in 21 rebounds.
Schofield has been playing the best ball of his career over the last three weeks. The trend continued into the NCAA Tournament as the junior recorded his second consecutive double-double. His 15 points and 12 rebounds helped log his fourth double-double of the season. To cap his day, he put two poor Wright State players on a poster.
Turner didn’t put anybody on a poster, but he was a calming presence off the bench while the offense found its rhythm. The sophomore scored a team-high 19 points while also dishing out a career-high nine assists.
Tennessee gets the jitters out of its system
The best thing to come of Thursday’s game is that Tennessee got its first game of the tournament out of the way. Now that it’s familiar with the environment, it can just settle in and play basketball.
We saw this in the SEC Tournament. A new environment led to a funky performance in its opening game against Mississippi State. Once the Vols became familiar with the building, the depth perception of the basket, the hotel and all that other jazz, they turned in arguably their best performance of the year against Arkansas.
I expect the same to happen when Tennessee plays Loyola-Chicago on Saturday. Despite the level of competition being stronger, UT will feel much more comfortable because they’ll be going through a routine they’ve already been through.
They’re now familiar with the hotel, the locker room, the court, the depth perception, etc. As a result, Tennessee won’t need a couple of minutes to truly get going.