Tennessee (21-12, 11-7 SEC) vs. Iowa (20-12, 9-9 Big Ten)
Wednesday, March 19, 9:10 p.m ET
UD Arena (13,409) . Dayton, Ohio
Radio: Vol Network (WGOW-FM 102.3, Chattanooga)
Series Record: Iowa leads 2-1
Winner claims the #11 seed in the Midwest Region and plays #6 UMass in the Round of 64 on Friday in Raleigh, N.C., at 2:45 p.m ET
Probable Iowa Starters
G-Mike Gesell, 6-1, 190, SO (8.1 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 3.9 apg)
G-Roy Devyn Marble, 6-6, 200, SO (17.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg, .364 3FG%)
F-Melsahn Basabe 6-7, 220, SR, (7.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg, .568 FG%)
F-Aaron White, 6-9, 220, JR, (13.0 ppg, 6.7 rpg, .592 FG%)
C-Adam Woodbury, 7-1, 240, SO (5.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg, .496 FG%)
Key Reserves:Jarrod Uthoff (6-9, 208, SO); Josh Oglesby (6-5, 208, JR); Gabriel Olaseni 6-10, 225, JR)
Probable Tennessee Starters
G-Antonio Barton, 6-2, 180, SR, (7.5 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.1 apg)
G-Jordan McRae, 6-6, 185, SR, (18.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg, .371 3FG%)
G-Josh Richardson, 6-6, 190, JR, (9.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg, .353 3FG%)
F-Jeronne Maymon, 6-8, 260, SR (10.1 ppg, 8.2 rpg, .529 FG%)
F-Jarnell Stokes, 6-8, 260, JR, (14.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 4.2 orpg)
Key Reserves:Darius Thompson (6-5, 180, FR); Derek Reese (6-8, 220, SO); Armani Moore (6-5, 215, SO)
The opening tip
Tennessee is back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011. But it’s not the triumphant return that many envisioned for this team.
Relatively stacked with returning veterans and a few exciting new pieces, this Tennessee team had hopes of landing a high seed and marching deep into the NCAA tournament this year.
A trip to the ‘First Four,’ the destination for the final four at-large teams that make the field, and an extra round of play weren’t what UT thought it would see on Selection Sunday. But while the Vols can’t change their seed, they do still have a chance to make some noise in the Big Dance.
“I’m just glad to be able to play, it doesn’t matter who we play against,” said junior forward Jarnell Stokes as the team packed up to leave for Dayton on Monday afternoon.
And that was the message from coach Cuonzo Martin and all the Tennessee players who spoke to the media over the past couple days. They might’ve wanted, and perhaps thought, they deserved a better seed, but the beauty of college basketball is that 68 teams get a shot to win it all.
Tennessee is glad to be one of them.
Their journey starts with Iowa, a team that looked to be on its way to a high seed before the Hawkeyes fell apart down the stretch, dropping six of their last seven and getting knocked out of the Big Ten tournament by lowly Northwestern.
But if the Hawkeyes can get back to their early-season form, they can be a formidable opponent. March can be a new beginning for teams. And with scorers such as Roy Devyn Marble (17.3 ppg) and Aaron White (13 ppg), a deep bench and a points-per-game average of over 80, Iowa certainly has the firepower to overwhelm UT if the Vols don’t defend the way they have been recently.
Defense is what UT is hanging its hat on as the tournament begins. The Vols are finally playing at the level that Martin has envisioned on the defensive end and it’s paying off.
The Vols have won five of their last six with the only loss coming to No. 1 overall seed Florida in a game thatUT hung in until the final minute. Their defense, which held their last four opponents to just 47.4 points per game, can keep them in any game. But they’ll have to hit more shots to advance.
Tennessee only scored 14 points in the second half against the Gators. Another poor shooting night like that could end UT’s season on Wednesday.
Starting guards Antonio Barton, Josh Richardson and Jordan McRae will need big nights. Barton, especially, was an offensive catalyst down the stretch of the regular season, but went cold in the SEC tournament in Atlanta. Hitting 35 to 40 percent of their 3s would go a long way in helping Tennessee advance to face UMass in Raleigh on Friday.
“Just excited for the program, the fans that were there through the thick and thin, continued to support, happy for all of them.”
– Martin on his reaction to Tennessee making the tournament.
Iowa is a team playing with a heavy heart. Coach Fran McCaffery’s son is having a thyroid tumor removed this week and McCaffery will be flying back and forth between Dayton and Iowa City. He is expected to be at the game coaching. . Tennessee is 0-2 in NCAA tournament games played in Dayton (2001, 2009). . This is Martin’s first appearance in the NCAA tournament as a head coach. . Tennessee and Iowa both played in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament over Thanksgiving, but the teams didn’t play each other. . The teams have one common opponent, Xavier, which will also be playing in Dayton this week. Iowa knocked off the Musketeers in their one meeting, while Tennessee split the season series, losing at Xavier and beating them in the Bahamas. . The Vols will wear their home white uniforms. . Only three UT players – Barton, McRae and Jeronne Maymon – have ever played in the NCAA tournament. McRae and Maymon played in mop-up duty in UT’s 30-point loss to Michigan in 2011. Barton appeared three times as a member of the Memphis Tigers, averaging 5.7 points per game.
This one could go either way. The Vols have a better starting five. Iowa has more depth. I’m giving the edge to Tennessee because the Vols are playing better, overall, than Iowa coming into this week. But if the lids are on the bucket for Tennessee like they have been several times this year, including last weekend in Atlanta, I’m not sure if UT’s defense can completely shut down the Hawkeyes like it has other recent opponents. Expect the game to come down to the final minutes, maybe even overtime.
Tennessee 65, Iowa 62
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter@DanielNooga