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RTI Game Predictions: No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 13 Louisiana

Photo via Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee basketball opens up NCAA Tournament in Orlando tonight against 13-seed Louisiana. The Vols are double-digit favorites over Louisiana and are looking to advance to the Round of 32 for the second consecutive season.

Louisiana enters the NCAA Tournament coming off a Sun Belt Tournament championship after finishing second in the conference in the regular season. Power forward Jordan Brown leads the Ragin’ Cajuns with 19 points per game and is one of the best players in the Sun Belt.

Rick Barnes’ eighth Tennessee team is limping in the NCAA Tournament undermanned with Zakai Zeigler sidelined. The Vols are 5-7 since the start of February as they’ve battled injuries and haven’t gained real momentum.

Here are the RTI team’s game predictions for the Vols’ NCAA Tournament opener.

More From RTI: Everything To Know About Tennessee’s Matchup Against Louisiana

Ric Butler

We’ll cross the potential Round 2 bridge when it comes, right? Until then, Tennessee has a tough, gritty, Louisiana squad.

For this game, and potentially the next one even though I said I would save that for a later date, I think this is more about what Tennessee team shows up in Orlando. Louisiana could throw a strong showing at Tennessee, just like Duke or Oral Roberts could. But, truly, I believe this Tennesee team will go as far as their production on the court takes them.

The Vols will need to do a good job slowing down Louisiana forward Jordan Brown, which is on Tennessee’s big men to show up and produce defensively. Jonas Aidoo, in particular, will need to have a good game. The Ragin’ Cajuns don’t shoot a ton of three-point shots, but when they do, they typically go in at a pretty high rate. For a Tennessee team that has let up 49 second-half points in two of their last three games, this is going to need to be a point of emphasis. Tennessee has been a team that’s built on defense.

Offensively, I think this team continues to ride the wave of Josiah-Jordan James scoring the basketball. When James is on and scoring, this Tennessee team is much more versatile. When he isn’t scoring at a very high rate, the weight shifts much more in Santiago Vescovi’s direction. Which third shooter will step up? That’s the other big question. Jahmai Mashack? Tyreke Key? Olivier Nkamhoua? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Again – I think Tennessee’s ability to win or lose this game depends on which Vol team shows up in Orlando. I’m counting this one as a win.

Prediction: Tennessee 68, Louisiana 64

Ryan Schumpert

Louisiana is a popular upset pick over Tennessee in the first round and there’s certainly strong reasoning there. The Vols are not playing their best basketball entering the tournament, are down arguably their most important player and Rick Barnes’ tournament track record isn’t glowing over the last decade.

That’s all on the Tennessee side of things. Louisiana isn’t the best 13-seed in the field but they are capable. Arizona transfer Jordan Brown is a star and presents major problems. Brown averages 19 points per game and at 6-foot-11, 240-pounds he won’t be overwhelmed by SEC size and athleticism. Earlier this season against Texas, Brown scored 20 points. Tennessee’s big men, particularly Jonas Aidoo and Uros Plavsic, have a major challenge in slowing Brown down.

At the same time, Louisiana lost by 28 in that game against Texas. Tennessee is 11-point favorites for a reason. They are a better team. The Vols’ top players need to lead the way. Big games from Santiago Vescovi, Josiah-Jordan James and Olivier Nkamhoua would make the Vols tough to beat. Tennessee survives against the Ragin’ Cajuns but not without a scare.

Prediction: Tennessee 70, Louisiana 65

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