UT faces Ohio in the NCAA Tournament's second round
Tennessee received two blessings in the same day on Thursday in the first round of the NCAA Men's Tournament.
Firstly, the Vols witnessed Ohio beast its way past perennial power Georgetown, knocking off the Hoyas and advancing to the second round of the Big Dance as the region's No. 14 seed.
Next, UT survived the pesky San Diego State Aztecs in its own first round matchup at Dunkin Donuts Arena in Providence, R.I. to reserve a date with Ohio on Saturday.
Eleventh-seeded San Diego State was the sexy pick amongst basketball bigwigs. CBS's Seth Davis proudly proclaimed the Aztecs as his early first round upset pick during Sunday's selection show, while Sports Illustrated gave no love to the resilient Vols by picking UT for an early tournament exit, as well.
In retrospect, who could blame the UT haters? A 29-point dismantling at the hands of Kentucky in the SEC Tournament was the last memory cemented of UT before tournament selection time, and the Vols' play in the early rounds of SECs was hardly stellar. Scotty Hopson flat-out forgot how to shoot in the conference tournament, while defense as a whole plagued UT in its loss to the Wildcats.
Inquiring minds might even suggest UT gave up down the stretch against UK. Case in point: The Wildcats' 29-6 run to end the contest.
So considering the circumstances, you think Bruce Pearl is happy to get past the first round of NCAA's unscathed? And you think Pearl is relieved not to see Georgetown looming in the distance, but instead the Bobcats of Ohio?
These Bobcats evidently live and die with the 3-pointer. UT's perimeter defense in big games has been, well, shoddy at times. Losses to Vanderbilt and Florida on the road point to that fact. Tennessee will need to dust off its scrappy defense and keep the barrages from distance to a minimum.
On offense, Scotty Hopson hit a couple of treys against SDSU, plus Melvin Goins came alive off the bench for the Vols. If Hopson gets hot, and Chism/Prince can stay out of foul trouble and contribute, Tennessee could be looking at a Sweet Sixteen appearance.