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Tennessee Remains the Surprise Team of the NCAA Tournament

Tennessee’s success in the postseason should not come as a surprise in light of what the Volunteers accomplished on the court during the last month of the regular season.  In fact, the Volunteers ended the regular season with four consecutive wins over Mississippi State (75-68), Vanderbilt (76-38), Auburn (82-54) and Missouri (72-45).  Following a 56-49 loss to Florida in the SEC tournament, the Volunteers renewed their late-season surge with dominating wins over Iowa (78-65), Massachusetts (86-67) and Mercer (83-63).  More importantly, Tennessee stands at a near-perfect 7-1 ATS in the month of March, 23-12 ATS after covering the point spread and 9-2 ATS after winning four of its last five games.

Toughness Epitomizes Tennessee

Third-year head coach Cuonzo Martin introduced a new program slogan for Tennessee this season: A Tougher Breed. “Toughness has got to be what we are as a program.  That’s our brand, our way of life,” Martin said.  “It would be hard to find a tougher team in America than the University of Tennessee men’s basketball program,” said senior forward Jeronne Maymon.  “That’s what we hang our hat on.  You’ve got to find something to hang your hat on, and we hang our hat on toughness.”  Tennessee’s toughness is best evidenced under the boards where the Volunteers rank third nationally in offensive rebounding percentage (.418), while also averaging 12.0 offensive rebounds per game.

The glass is dominated by Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes, both of whom have made their presence known under the basket.  Specifically, Maymon is averaging 8.2 rebounds per game, while Stokes is averaging 10.7 rebounds per game.  Tennessee’s toughness is also been noted by several of its opponents:

  • Xavier head coach Chris Mack: “When Tennessee missed a shot, we got bullied. They just pushed us anywhere they wanted, legally, and got the rebound;”
  • Virginia head coach Tony Bennett: “Their model was to draw a line in the sand and dare you to cross it physically. That’s kind of their mentality . . .They just took it to us in every way.”

Fundamental Analysis: Tennessee

Tennessee’s strength is at the defensive end of the floor where the Volunteers are allowing 61.4 points per game to teams that would combine to average 71.2 points per game.  Moreover, the Volunteers are yielding just 63.2 points per game on the road this season, while limiting opponents to a mere 59.0 points over their last five games (40.4% FG; 30.3% 3-PT).   Overall, Tennessee is 9.8 points per game better than average defensively, which gives the Volunteers a 3.1 points per game advantage over a Michigan attack that is 6.7 points per game better than average.

However, the current form of both teams is significant in that Tennessee continues to get better on the defensive end of the court, whereas the Wolverines are declining offensively.  Specifically, Tennessee is yielding 59.0 points this postseason (including SEC tournament), while the Wolverines’ offensive output has dropped to 65.4 points over the same period of time.  Based on the foregoing analysis, I actually give Tennessee a 6+ point per game advantage defensively in this game.

Tennessee’s offense is nothing to write home about as the Volunteers are 3.6 points per game better than average (72.2 points per game against teams that would combine to allow 68.6 points per game), which gives the Wolverines a 3.0 points per game advantage defensively in this contest.  The good news for Tennessee investors is the fact that the Volunteers are shooting 47.6% from the field during the postseason, while also making 78.0% of their free throws.

From a matchup standpoint, Michigan does not have the ability to play two bigs at once, which means that both Maymon and Stokes, who rebound nearly 30% of Tennessee’s missed field goal attempts, will dominate inside. Therefore, Michigan will be forced to rely upon ball screens and three-pointers, both of which are defended extraordinarily well by the Volunteers.  In fact, Tennessee is ranked 21st nationally in percentage of three-point field goals allowed per game.  With Tennessee standing at 7-1 ATS in its last eight games, 6-1 ATS following a win, 5-1 ATS after covering the spread and 4-1 ATS in its last five games versus an opponent with a win percentage greater than .600, take the Volunteers and invest with confidence.

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