It's Hoops Time in Tennessee: NCAA Tournament East Regional Round 1

Last Time Out: Tennessee went 1-1 in the SEC Tournament, beating Ole Miss but dropping a second game this season to Missouri, 71-79. 

Previously On Vols in the NCAA Tournament: As a 3-seed in the 2022 South regional, Tennessee easily handled Longwood before bowing out to 11-seed Michigan. This will be UT's fifth trip to the NCAA Tournament under Rick Barnes, and the fourth time as a four-seed or better. However, the Vols have only made it to the second weekend of play once in that stretch. 

Tennessee is 9-1 all-time against first-round opponent Louisiana, last winning 87-65 in 2018. 

Who to Watch: Louisiana's marketing team. Until the late 90s, there were two "directional Louisianas": Southwestern Louisiana and Northeast Louisiana. Nobody knew which was which, and nobody cared. So in an effort to differentiate the programs, the schools rebranded themselves Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana-Lafayette. Each school wanted to call itself the University of Louisiana, and neither wanted the other school to go by that name. But through a little pepper-infused ingenuity, the school in Lafayette realized that by rebranding their teams "Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns", they would de facto become associated as the University of Louisiana. Although the two schools are still technically ULM and ULL, it is the school in Lafayette that owns (a fact that should only be used to determine who is the "real" Louisiana, but not applied to the debate about the real UT).

Am I using this aside to avoid talking about Tennessee's outlook in this year's NCAA tournament? Yes. Onward, I suppose. 

Louisiana mostly goes with a three-guard lineup, a fact that would play nicely into Tennessee's strengths were we not missing one of our best guards. As it is, the game will still be an interesting matchup of one of the nation's better scoring teams against Tennessee's suffocating defense. 

Prediction: This is where I want to say it's time for Tennessee to flip the script. While past UT teams have come into March Madness red-hot and fizzled out early, this team is limping in, so why not look for a reversal of fortune and count on this group to make a run? And of course that's what we'd all love to see happen. 

However... even if Tennessee makes it past the Cajuns (and I think they will), they will match up with another very good scoring team (Oral Roberts' Offensive Rating was left off the above chart--it's 117.5, good for #3 nationally). Guard play and scoring tend to win in March, and for a team that lost the SEC leader in assists, offense will only be harder to generate. Unfortunately, my honest prediction for this tournament is that Tennessee will beat Louisiana before being sent home in round two


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