The top-seed Tennessee Volunteers begin their run at an NIT title starting at 8 pm tonight in the friendly confines of Thompson-Boling Arena against MEAC regular season champs Savannah State.
Savannah State enters with a 21-11 record, including wins in 13 of their previous 14 games. The Tigers and Vols faced two common opponents this season in Chattanooga and Arkansas. The Tigers lost both games—by two to Chattanooga and by 17 to Arkansas. The Vols beat Chattanooga by 13 and Arkansas by 19.
The Tigers are led by junior forward Rashad Hassan. Hassan leads the team in points (12.8) and field goal percentage (.576), while only averaging 22.5 minutes per game. Hassan, who stands 6-foot-7 and weighs 215 pounds, will more than likely draw Jeronne Maymon as his defensive assignment. Hassan will have his hands full with Maymon, who he gives up 50 pounds to, and the rest of the Vols frontline.
Junior guards Deric Rudolph and Preston Blackman lead the Tigers backcourt. Rudolph is second on the team in scoring (11.0) and assists (1.6). Blackmon leads the team in assists (5.0) and is fourth on the team in scoring (8.8). Rudolph (5-foot-11, 175 pounds) and Blackman (6-foot-0, 170 pounds) lack the size to match up with Trae Golden, Cam Tatum, and Jordan McRae in the Volunteer backcourt.
Arnold Louis is the other big threat for the Tigers. Louis, the leading rebounder (7.9) and third leading scorer (9.6) for the Tigers, stands 6-foot-7 but weighs only 205 pounds. Louis, and frontcourt mate Hassan, will be faced with one of the biggest challenges of his college career tonight as he tries to shutdown Maymon and 6-foot-8, 250 pound freshman Jarnell Stokes.