Sweet 16: Breaking down Tennessee

InsideTheVille.com breaks down No. 3-seed Louisville's Sweet 16 NCAA Tournament opponent - No. 2-seed Tennessee (31-4), the Southeastern Conference regular-season champions.

    Head Coach: Bruce Pearl
    Conference: SEC
    Record: 31-4
    Seed: No. 2 East Region

    Tennessee, the regular-season SEC champs, is making their second straight trip to the Sweet 16. The Vols prefer a helter-skelter, frantic pace and can put points on the board in a hurry. In reaching the regional semifinals for Thursday's contest against Louisville, UT knocked off No. 15 American 71-57 and No. 7 Butler 76-71 in overtime.

    Tennessee is 0-4 in regional semifinal games; Rick Pitino is 7-0. The Vols are led by Chris Lofton, who averages 15.5 points. A dangerous three-point shooter, Lofton struggled with his outside shooting in the first two round of the NCAA Tournament, failing to reach double-figures against both American and Butler.

    The Vols use a three-guard lineup and like to pressure full court on defense and fire away from the perimeter on offense. 6-2 guard JaJuan Smith is UT's other big perimeter gun. He's averaging 17.8 points over the past games, while making 19-43 three's. While Lofton and Smith are dangerous scorers, UT has struggled with their point guard play recently, so much so that Bruce Pearl inserted 6-6 J.P. Prince into the starting lineup, instead of Ramar Smith, at the point for the first time all season in the NCAA first round. But that experiment didn't quite pan out, as Prince had six turnovers against Butler and was benched during the overtime session. UT committed 20 turnovers in their win over Butler.

    Inside, the Vols rely on 6'9 Wayne Chism and 6'7 Tyler Smith. Smith, an athletic slashing forward, averages 13.7 points and 6.8 rebounds, while Chism adds nearly 10 and 6 per game. 6'7 Duke Crews is the Vols top front court reserve.

    Despite the talents of Chism, Crews and Smith, Tennessee is a perimeter-oriented team. The Vols average 9 three's per game (22nd nationally), 18 assists (4th nationally) and score 83 points per contest (5th nationally). Lofton, a second-team All-American, ranks third in NCAA history in career three-pointers made.

    The Vols have been well tested this season, having played one of the nation's toughest schedules. UT is 3-2 against teams seeded 1-4 in the NCAA Tournament, having defeated No. 1 Memphis, No. 3 Xavier and split two games against No. 4 Vanderbilt. UT lost to No. 2 Texas.

    Keys to the Game
    Control the boards: Louisville has a distinct size and depth advantage in the front court against Tennessee. The Cardinals will need to keep the Vols off the glass, particularly on the offensive board. Tennessee has outrebounded 13 of their last 17 opponents by a 3.9 margin and are averaging 14 offensive rebounds in those games.

    Protect the basketball: Tennessee forces 18 turnovers a game, and averages 9.2 steals. Louisville will need to do a good taking care of the basketball and limiting silly mistakes and turnovers as the Vols are averaging nearly 22 points per game this season off turnovers.

    Shot Selection: The number one key for Louisville is to take good shots. When the Cardinals don't force the action offensively and avoid taking challenged shots they win. Louisville needs to make Tennessee work defensively.

    Pressure D: Tennessee has a tendency to commit turnovers, 20 against Butler. The Vols can get hot from the perimeter and can shoot down teams if Lofton and Smith heat up. Louisville needs to apply pressure on the Volunteers suspect ball-handlers and get out on Tennessee's perimeter shooters. Louisville can't forget this fact either, Lofton' range knows no bounds. He will fire at will and can drain 3's from way downtown.

    The Series – Louisville vs. Tennessee
    Louisville leads the all-time series with Tennessee 11-7 ... The Cardinals have won the last four meetings, including an 85-62 victory Jan. 22, 2005 in Louisville ... Three of the last four meetings have been decided by three points or less ... The series was revived during the 2001-02 season with a four-game home-and-home deal that concluded in 2005 ... It was the first time the two teams had met since a 100-84 Tennessee win on March 29, 1985 in the consolation game of the National Invitation Tournament in New York City ... The series is tied 5-5 when it is played in Louisville ... The Cardinals lead the series when it is played in Knoxville 5-1 ... It is tied 1-1 on neutral sites ... The series dates back to Feb. 19, 1913 when Tennessee took a 24-16 win in Louisville. This is the second time the Vols and Cards have met in the NCAA Tournament ... Louisville took a 70-57 win in the second round of the 1983 Mideast Region in Evansville, Ind. ... Michael Brooks led UT with 18 points while Dale Ellis added 13 ... Milt Wagner and Lancaster Gordon each had 18 points for a Louisville team that advanced to the Final Four.

    Recent Classics

  • Dec. 20, 2001 — Louisville hit three 3-pointers in the last 32 seconds to overcome a six-point UT lead to take a 73-72 victory. Reece Gaines banked in a 3-pointer with 36 seconds to cut the Tennessee lead to 70-67. Louisville's Erik Brown then stole the inbounds pass and found Bryant Northern open for a 3-pointer to tie the game. Marcus Haislip put the Vols back on top with a lay-in to make the score 72-70 with six seconds left in the game. Louisville scrambled to the other end of the floor without calling a timeout and Gaines hit another trey to give the Cards a 73-72 led with 1.8 seconds left.
  • Jan. 25, 2003 — Louisville overcame an 11-point Tennessee lead in the second half to escape Knoxville with a 72-69 win. Reece Gaines led the Cardinals with a game-high 22 points and dished out the game winning assist when he hit Kendall Dartez for a short jumper that gave the Cardinals the lead for good with 54 seconds left.
  • Jan. 25, 2004 — Scooter McFadgon sank a trey with 4.1 seconds to go to cut Louisville's lead to 64-62. Francisco Garcia then appeared to step out of bounds on the inbound play but it was ruled that he was fouled first and he hit one free throw to make the final margin 65-62 in Knoxville.

    Final Thoughts:
    If recent history holds true, Thursday's game should be a classic. Louisville enters the contest playing their best basketball of the season, rolling through the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament by an average of 24 points per game. Outside of North Carolina, and possibly Kansas, Louisville is probably the hottest team since the tournament started last Thursday.

    Tennessee didn't exactly play their best in Birmingham, struggling with American University before being taken to overtime by Butler in round two. If the Vols hope to advance to their first regional final ever, Chris Lofton will have to shoot better than he did in the first two rounds. The Vols have struggled against physical teams that get after it defensively. And that's exactly what Louisville is all about.

    Obviously, the stakes are high for both teams. On the line – a trip to the regional finals against either North Carolina, the top overall seed in the tournament, or Washington State.

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