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Prediction Panel: No. 2 Tennessee vs. No. 3 Purdue

(Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

The RTI team makes their picks for the Vols’ match-up with Purdue in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night. Managing editor Nathanael Rutherford and staff writer Ben McKee share their predictions for the Vols’ contest against the Boilermakers.

Nathanael’s Pick

I don’t know why, but this game just makes me ridiculously nervous. Actually, I do know why: Carsen Edwards.

I trust that Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden, and Jordan Bone will do the best they can to guard Edwards. He’ll be priority No. 1 for the Vols on defense. But players who can light it up from three or are dangerous scorers in some way have given the Vols issues all season regardless of how much defensive intensity they’ve brought to games.

Remember Jordan Burns of Colgate? Remember Javonte Smart? Remember Aaron Nesmith? Remember Bryce Brown or Chuma Okeke (though Okeke isn’t a guard)?

The Vols survived Burns’ hot shooting night and beat Nesmith’s Vanderbilt squad in overtime in Nashville, but they lost to Smart’s LSU team in overtime and lost both times to Auburn thanks to Brown and Okeke’s efforts. Granted, most of those times (with the exception of Vanderbilt) those players had a really good supporting cast around them, and Purdue’s support system around Edwards isn’t the greatest.

But the Boilermakers have enough other players besides Edwards to make Tennessee pay, and that worries me quite a bit.

Ryan Cline is dangerous from three, and Matt Haarms is a 7-foot-3 center who will make driving to the lane very difficult unless the Vols can get him in foul trouble. Not only that, but Purdue has a really good defense and shoots well from three overall as a team. Grant Williams will have a tough time scoring inside for UT, and when that’s been the case this year, Tennessee has struggled to win.

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I trust the Vols to win this game if it turns into a shootout, but I don’t think it will. I think it’ll be a defensive slogfest with Edwards trying to shoot Purdue to victory. Unfortunately for Tennessee, they’ve struggled mightily against really good guards this year.

If Tennessee truly can limit Edwards and make him shoot a lot of bad shots, then they’ll win. But right now, Edwards just looks like he’s feeling it. Purdue is one of the most inconsistent teams in college basketball, but right now they have a lot of positive momentum.

Call me a hater if you want, but I picked against the Vols last week, and we saw how that turned out. So maybe the same thing will happen here, too.

Pick: Purdue, 68-66

MVP: Carsen Edwards, Purdue guard

I mean, there’s no way anyone else is the MVP of this game if Purdue wins than Edwards. He’s been the Boilermakers’ leading scorer in all but five games this season. That doesn’t look to change on Thursday night, and he’ll be Purdue’s MVP regardless if they win or lose.

Ben’s Pick

Tennessee has a great basketball team, and in order to knock the Vols out of the NCAA Tournament, it’s going to take more than just one player to beat team.

That’s why I’m rolling with Tennessee to beat Purdue and advance to the Elite Eight. Carsen Edwards is a tremendous player, and the Boilermakers are a really good team, but I don’t like that they go as Edwards goes. This time of year, give me a team that has multiple weapons rather than just one weapon.

In picking Tennessee, I’m putting a lot of stock in Lamonte Turner’s defensive ability. Turner will draw the responsibility of defending Edwards, and while the Purdue star will still score at least 20 points due to how many shots he takes, Turner isn’t going to allow him to drop 42 like he did against Villanova.

Defending Edwards doesn’t fall solely on Turner’s shoulders, though. Jordan Bowden, Jordan Bone, and Yves Pons will also have their crack at slowing down the 6-foot-1 point guard. With Tennessee being locked in on slowing down Edwards with four guys, I have a hard time believing he’ll single-handedly win Purdue the game.

Pick: Tennessee, 84-78

MVP: Jordan Bone, Tennessee point guard

Iowa struggled to keep Jordan Bone in front of them, and I believe Purdue will do the same. Quite simply, Purdue didn’t see a guard as fast and aggressive as Bone in Big Ten play. Iowa was confident they could slow down Bone, but they quickly realized how much of a problem Bone is in transition.

I expect for Bone to be aggressive and be the difference in a Tennessee win that sends the Vols to the Elite Eight.

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