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By the Numbers: Tennessee’s Match-Up with Creighton in the Sweet Sixteen

Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee truly “survived and advanced” to the Sweet Sixteen with their gritty, ugly, and downright physical 62-58 win over Texas in the Second Round of the 2024 NCAA Tournament. And since the Vols are still alive and kicking in the tournament, I wanted to dive back into some numbers for you.

As I did prior to the Vols’ first game of the 2024 NCAA Tournament, I’m offering up a “by the numbers” look at Tennessee’s Sweet Sixteen match-up with the three-seed Creighton Blue Jays on Friday night, March 29.

Take a look at some interesting stats, historical data, and trends heading into Tennessee’s pivotal second weekend of the tournament.

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Let’s start with the record between these two teams. And unfortunately, if you’re looking for some recent match-ups between the two schools to get an idea of what to expect on Friday night, you’re out of luck.

Tennessee and Creighton have faced each other exactly one time, and it was all the way back in 1937. The Vols beat Creighton by a score of 34-28 in the pre-WWII days, and that had to have been a game I imagine the saying “that set the game of basketball back 100 years” is referring to.


Since we don’t have much history between UT and Creighton to draw on, let’s look at some historical data that does actually pertain to Friday’s game.

All-time, two-seeds own a 43-28 record against three-seeds in the NCAA Tournament. That’s good enough for a 60.6% win percentage. Last year, the seed pairing split their match-ups with 3-seed Gonzaga beating 2-seed UCLA and 2-seed Texas defeating 3-seed Xavier. Two-seed Duke beat three-seed Texas Tech in 2022, and there were no games between two-seeds and three-seeds in the 2021 tournament. The 2019 tournament saw a handful of 2-and-3-seed games, and the Vols were involved in one of them.

Which leads us to…


Unfortunately for Tennessee, they’ve been on the wrong side of the match-up between 2-seeds and 3-seeds in their tournament history.

The Vols are 0-2 all-time against 3-seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Both times UT has played a three-seed has been when they were a two-seed, and both times came in the Sweet Sixteen. Tennessee fell 79-60 to three-seed Louisville in 2008, and they most recently lost 99-94 in overtime to three-seed Purdue in 2019.

On the flip side, Creighton has had the same luck against two-seeds in their program’s history. The Blue Jays are 0-2 all-time against 2-seeds in the NCAA Tournament, losing 75-63 to two-seed Maryland in 1999 as a 10-seed, and falling to two-seed Duke 66-50 as a 7-seed in 2013.


Both Tennessee and Creighton have been to the exact same number of Elite Eights since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. And that number is one.

The Vols, of course, made their lone Elite Eight run in 2010, and Creighton’s came just last year. The Blue Jays are seeking back-to-back Elite Eight appearances for the first time in school history, while the Vols are just trying to get over the Sweet Sixteen hump for only the second time ever. This will be Tennessee’s eighth Sweet Sixteen appearance since 2000, but the previous seven appearances have resulted in just one Elite Eight trip. Creighton, meanwhile, has now appeared in three of the last four Sweet Sixteens after not advancing that far for over 45 years prior to 2021.


Believe it or not, Tennessee is undefeated in the NCAA Tournament against teams that are current members of the Big East.

The Vols hold a 3-0 record against teams currently in the Big East when they’ve played them in the Big Dance. They defeated Butler in 2008, UConn in 2000, and Marquette in 1983. Both Butler and Marquette were not in the Big East when UT beat them at the time, however. Marquette was an Independent back in 1983 and didn’t join the Big East till 2005, and Butler was in the Horizon League and joined the Big East in 2013. Tennessee is 31-27 all-time against the teams currently in the Big East.


Time for some Creighton-specific stats. The Blue Jays are a prolific three-point shooting team, making 36.6% of their threes (36th in the country) while attempting a staggering 29.3 threes per game, which is the 9th-most in the country. They aren’t often stifled at the three-point line, but the most consistent way to beat them is to catch them on an off-shooting night or force them to put up a bunch of tough shots.

The Blue Jays are 2-6 this season when they’ve shot under 30% from three, which means six of their nine losses have come when they’ve shot under 30% from the perimeter. As you can see, though, they don’t have many nights where they don’t shoot well from deep, but they’re very beatable when that happens. Tennessee has been pretty good at forcing teams to shoot poorly from three, as they’ve held opponents to under 30% on three-point shooting in 16 games this season and are 15-1 in those contests. Their only loss came against Purdue early in the season, and the Boilermakers only attempted 15 threes and relied, instead, on their inside presence and a ton of free throw attempts (48, to be exact).


You’ve probably heard this stat already, but it’s worth repeating. Before Tennessee’s win over Texas, teams that shot 15% or worse from three on at least 20 three-point attempts and shot 35% or worse overall were 0-28 in the NCAA Tournament. That changed when the Vols only shot 12% from three on 28 attempts and 33.8% from the field overall against the Longhorns and somehow managed to win. Teams are now 1-29 all-time in the NCAA Tournament when putting up those paltry shooting numbers (Grand Canyon hit those same thresholds by shooting 10% from three on 20 attempts and just 32.1% overall in their 72-61 loss to Alabama in the Second Round of this year’s tournament on the Sunday following the Vols’ win over Texas).

The good news for the Vols is that when they’ve had incredibly bad three-point shooting games this season, they’ve always bounced back the following game.

Tennessee has shot 25% or worse from three three other times this season, and every time they’ve shot better than 40% from three the next time they took the court. UT made just 25% of their threes against Georgia Southern on Dec. 12, and they came back and made 44.4% of their threes against NC State on Dec. 16. On Jan. 30, the Vols made just 23.8% of their threes against South Carolina, and their next game out against Kentucky, they shot 40% from three and scored 103 points. In UT’s lone SEC Tournament game, they made only 24.2% of their three-pointers against Mississippi State. The next game, their first in the NCAA Tournament, they connected on 45.8% of their threes against St. Peter’s.


Now it’s time for some stats about Rick Barnes.

Tennessee’s head coach is 5-0 all-time against Creighton’s head coach, Greg McDermott. The two were head coaches in the Big 12 at the same time for four years when McDermott led Iowa State from 2006-10 while Rick Barnes was at Texas. Barnes’ Longhorns defeated McDermott’s Cyclones four times in the regular season and went 1-0 against them the one time they faced off in the Big 12 Tournament.


With the win over his former school, Rick Barnes now has eight NCAA Tournament wins as Tennessee’s head coach and is 8-5 in the tournament at Tennessee. Barnes has now tied the school record for most wins in the NCAA Tournament, with Bruce Pearl holding an 8-6 record in his six seasons as the Vols’ head coach from 2005-11.

A win on Friday will give Barnes the school record for most NCAA Tournament wins as a men’s basketball head coach, and it would give him almost a third of UT’s all-time NCAA Tournament wins.


The Sweet Sixteen match-up between Tennessee and Creighton isn’t expected to tip-off until well after 10:00 PM Eastern, which got me to thinking: How have the Vols fared in other late games this season?

In games that have tipped off at 9:00 PM Eastern or later this season, Tennessee is a perfect 4-0. Tennessee has played three games this season that tipped in the 9 o’clock hour, beating Arkansas on Feb. 14, Wisconsin on Nov. 10, and Saint Peter’s in the NCAA Tournament. The Vols have played one other game this season that started around 10:00 PM, and that was against NC State back on Dec. 16, and the Vols won that one as well.

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