The RTI team makes their picks for the Vols’ match-up with Iowa in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday afternoon. Managing editor Nathanael Rutherford and staff writer Ben McKee share their predictions for the Vols’ contest against the Hawkeyes.
Maybe I’m just overreacting too much. Maybe I’m giving Iowa too much credit and Cincinnati not enough of the blame for the Hawkeyes’ upset victory in the first round. Whatever it is, I just don’t have a great feeling about this game.
Iowa has a mix of match-ups that I think could be deadly against Tennessee. The Hawkeyes have been inconsistent this season, and that — coupled with their defense — has been why they haven’t lived up to their potential this season. But when they’re on, they’ve been dangerous. And I’m not sure which version of the Hawkeyes that Tennessee will get on Sunday. If they get the bad defensive version that can sometimes go cold on offense, then UT will win.
But if the same Iowa that showed up in the first round against Cincinnati shows up, watch out.
The Hawkeyes made 11 of their 22 threes against Cincinnati, and they’re 14-2 this season when they make at least nine three-pointers in a game. Tennessee has given up nine makes from three in 14 games this season (though they’re 12-2 in those games, oddly enough).
But that’s not the only thing that concerns me about this game.
Iowa’s offense runs at a fast tempo. According to Ken Pomeroy’s metrics, they have the 82nd-fastest tempo in college basketball this season. Four of Tennessee’s five losses this year have come against teams ranked inside the top-160 in tempo. The Vols just simply do not match up well with teams that can play fast and shoot the three effectively, and that’s exactly what Iowa does well when they’re playing their best.
The Hawkeyes also do an exceptional job of drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line.
Iowa has drawn the 14th-most fouls in men’s basketball this season, getting opponents to foul them 698 times. That’s an average of 20.5 drawn fouls per game. They’ve parlayed that into success at the free throw line as well. Iowa is averaging 24 free throw attempts per game, and they’re connecting on 73.8 percent of those shots.
Tennessee can get into foul trouble pretty easily if Kyle Alexander and Grant Williams are getting a bad whistle or if they’re playing a little careless on defense.
Not only do the Hawkeyes worry me because of all that, but they also have some tough players to guard. Iowa only plays one player under 6-foot-5, and they have several lengthy athletes who can drive into the lane and connect on threes both.
The Vols absolutely can win this game. Iowa is one of the most inconsistent teams in the tournament this year, and just because they played well in the first round doesn’t mean they will in the second round. But my gut feels bad about this game, and my gut has been right more than it’s been wrong for UT football and basketball this year.
Hopefully, it’s wrong again like it was when the Vols played Kentucky in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament. My bracket is also blown to smithereens this year, so maybe I’m just not feeling it with my picks in the tournament this time around.
Pick: Iowa, 81-78
MVP: Joe Wieskamp, Iowa guard
Iowa’s best three-point shooter is freshman guard Joe Wieskamp, and he’s been feeling it as of late. He scored 19 points on 4-of-6 shooting from three against Cincinnati, and he’s averaging 12.3 points over his last four games while making 47 percent of his threes in that stretch. He’s a 6-foot-6 guard who is capable of grabbing a lot of rebounds and scoring a lot of points. I don’t know that the Vols will have a great answer for him on defense, and I fear he’ll be able to connect on a lot of threes.
Many people expected Tennessee to be facing Cincinnati—and a probable road atmosphere—in Sunday’s second round game.
The No. 10 seed Iowa Hawkeyes made sure that didn’t happen. They rallied for a 79-72 win on Friday, earning a meeting with the 2nd-seeded Vols in Columbus.
Tennessee has struggled to defend the 3-point line recently, allowing 15 makes from three in each of the last two games. Iowa hit 11 of its 22 attempts against the defensive-minded Bearcats.
In what sounds like a recipe for disaster, things might actually be getting overblown here. Iowa has only shot the deep ball at a 36 percent clip this year.
The Hawkeyes like to play inside-out, so they certainly won’t bring the style that Auburn or Colgate did. Tyler Cook is an excellent big man down low, and Luka Garza adds a nice complement to Cook.
Luckily for the Vols, they have a couple guys named Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield. Also, Tennessee plays the same style as Iowa…except faster.
At Saturday’s press conference, the Hawkeyes said they’d be comfortable getting into a track meet against the Vols. It’ll be a double digit deficit before they realize that isn’t the best idea.
Kyle Alexander, who has been called the X-factor all season, is going to come to play. His height and length, which are his greatest assets, will shine against Iowa.
By drawing Iowa instead of Cincinnati, the Vols earned a much easier trip to their first Sweet 16 since 2014. Tennessee should be up by double digits for the entire second half.
Pick: Tennessee, 83-69
MVP: Kyle Alexander, Tennessee forward
Getting Kyle Alexander going prior to the Sweet 16 is exactly what Tennessee needs. Luka Garza is going to be his nemesis on Sunday, but the 6-foot-11 sophomore is going to get in some early foul trouble. For the first time in a while, Alexander is going to stay out of early foul trouble. That’ll be huge for the Vols.