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Prediction Panel: No. 2 Tennessee vs. No. 15 Colgate

(Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

The RTI team makes their picks for the Vols’ match-up with Colgate in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday afternoon. Managing editor Nathanael Rutherford and staff writer Ben McKee share their predictions for the Vols’ contest against the Raiders.

Nathanael’s Pick

Colgate has been absolutely on fire from three as of late. The Raiders have won 11-straight games, and they’ve shot over 50 percent from three in six of those games. They’re connecting on over 48 percent of their three-pointers in their last 10 games, and they’ve made at least nine threes in all 10 of those games.

If the Raiders were a better overall team or more talented/athletic, I would be very, very concerned about the Vols in this match-up. As it is, though, I’m not too nervous.

Colgate doesn’t play very great defense overall, and unless Tennessee is just missing shots they normally make, they should be able to score quite a bit. Going cold like that could certainly happen, though. Much stranger things have happened in the NCAA Tournament.

I’m not discounting Colgate. They’re a good team that’s made program history this season. Their 24 wins are easily the most in a single season in school history, eclipsing the 19 wins they totaled last year. They have the Patriot League Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year, and Coach of the Year, and they have a Second-Team All-Patriot League player and All-Defensive Team selection in the conference.

The Raiders are a really good Patriot League team. But even a great Patriot League team shouldn’t be able to beat this Vol squad.

This season, Colgate has faced three high major teams and lost all three by double-digits. Granted, those three games all came before the calendar flipped over to 2019 and before the Raiders started their winning streak, but it still shows, to me, the difference in high major schools and the Patriot League.

Those losses, by the way, were to some mediocre high major schools, too. Colgate lost to a Syracuse team that finished 20-13 and ended up an eight-seed in the NCAA Tournament, a 14-19 Pitt squad, and a 14-18 Penn State team.

Colgate is capable of giving the Vols fits thanks to the match-up nightmare of 6-foot-10 forward and Patriot League Player of the Year Rapolas Ivanauskas — who is averaging over 16 points and seven rebounds while making over 43 percent of his threes — and the supporting cast around him. But I think Tennessee will have used this time off to their benefit, and they’ll win.

Pick: Tennessee, 81-66

MVP: Admiral Schofield, Tennessee forward

I think Colgate may actually do a decent job of frustrating and bottling up Grant Williams, but I don’t think they have an answer for Admiral Schofield. Whether it’s from three or slashing to the basket, I think Admiral will be the leading scorer in this game and will have an efficient performance overall.

Ben’s Pick

Colgate is on an 11-game winning streak – the longest winning streak in program history. On Friday, that streak comes to an end.

I do believe the Raiders will keep the game closer longer than many think, though. Really just for one reason: Colgate can really light it up from the 3-point line. That’s an area that Tennessee has really struggled to defend this season.

The Raiders lead the nation in 3-point field goal percentage since Feb. 1. On the season, they rank 13th in the country. Not only can Colgate light it up from distance, but it shoots it well from all over the court, ranking 15th nationally in effective field-goal percentage.

With those numbers, you would expect Colgate to rank near the top in terms of offensive efficiency. Well, they’re ranked 63rd because the Raiders turn the ball over quite a bit. They’re 195th nationally in turnovers as they turn it over 13.2 times per game.

Defensively, Colgate doesn’t do itself any favors, ranking 202nd in defensive efficiency. And that’s against the 220th-toughest schedule in the country.

Sure, the Raiders will drain some 3’s and maybe keep the game a little closer than Rick Barnes would like. But Tennessee’s offense should have a field day. Outside of junior forward Will Rayman, Colgate does not possess any big men that should be able to slow down Grant Williams or even Kyle Alexander and Admiral Schofield.

Defensively for Tennessee, it’s as simple as slowing down sophomore point guard Jordan Burns and junior forward Rapolas Ivanauskas. The Northwestern transfer is the team’s leading scorer at 16.4 points per game, and he shoots 43 percent from three. Ivanauskas also grabs 7.9 rebounds per game.

Colgate doesn’t match-up well with Tennessee, at least on paper. I expect for the Vols’ experience and talent to overwhelm the Raiders at the end of the day as the Vols cruise to the second round of the tournament.

Pick: Tennessee, 84-69

MVP: Grant Williams, Tennessee forward

This is the perfect game for Tennessee to get back to its roots following the embarrassing loss in the SEC title game to Auburn. That begins with feeding the ball to Grant Williams early and often. Williams may not score a ton of points in this game, but he’ll rack up assists and rebounds while affecting the game beyond the box score. The points will also come though as Colgate doesn’t possess the ability to limit the two-time SEC Player of the Year in the paint.

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