IHTIT: Tennessee Vols vs Purdue Boilermakers NCAA Elite Eight Preview (3/31/24)

For just the second time in school history...

It's Elite Eight Time in Tennessee: It was a gritty battle on every possession, but Tennessee (27-8, 14-4 SEC, 15-8 vs. Quad 1&2) beat Creighton in the Sweet 16, 82-75. Earlier that night, Purdue (32-4, 17-3 Big 10, 22-4 vs. Quad 1&2) beat Gonzaga 80-68 in a rematch of two teams that had met in Maui back in November. Now the Boilermakers get another Maui rematch, this time against the Vols.

This will be the seventh meeting all-time between Purdue and Tennessee with the Vols trailing in the series 2-4. All seven meetings have come in a different venue, with this being the fifth-straight neutral site contest between the two schools. Of course that includes not only the Vols' hotly-contested 67-71 loss to Purdue in Maui this season, but also a bitter and controversial 94-99 OT loss to Purdue in the 2019 Sweet 16. And then there's the 2021 Music City Bowl loss, in overtime, and also controversial in its own right. So there is no lack of animosity when these two programs meet--especially from those of us in orange. 

See the basketball glossary for more information. Click for larger version. 

Lone Bullet:

  • Not pictured is Fletcher Loyer, who scored 27 against the Vols in Maui. Loyer was especially effective from the line in that game, shooting 10/11 from the stripe. 
I could type a bunch of words here, but we all know that the game will be decided by how tight and/or biased the whistles are. It's not sour grapes to point out that Purdue, and especially Zach Edey, tend to get a friendly whistle. It's been shown repeatedly throughout the season, regardless of opponent. On top of that, you had Matt Painter preemptively working the refs on Saturday, calling Tennessee's style "tackle football." And remember this gem from PU's president back on the island? 


So I'm going to write a couple paragraphs and a prediction with the assumption that the game will be called fairly, and the knowledge that it probably won't be. 

Going into the Creighton game, I wrote "Creighton isn't used to seeing great defenses. Tennessee is used to seeing great offenses." And I was pretty pleased with that bit because it turned out I was right: Tennessee was much more well equipped to handle the skill of the Bluejays offense than Creighton was to handle the physicality of UT's defense. There were places you could see an opening for the Vols in that game--weaknesses in the way that Creighton plays that Tennessee could exploit. 

You don't see nearly as much of that with Purdue. There are no real soft points in the Boilermakers' armor. They don't force a lot of turnovers, which is great and all, but it's not really a weakness. They are an incredible team on both ends of the floor, and they've played a tough schedule all season. They're seasoned and they're not going to give you anything--you've got to take it from them. If there are places Tennessee can create pressure, they will have to make that pressure happen. Here's some possibilities: 
  • In three of Purdue's four losses this season they had an effective field goal % under 50%. Ironically their lowest eFG% of the season came in their win against UT (38.9%)
  • In all of Purdue's losses their offense had a turnover rate of 20+% (Tennessee turned them over at 22%, Purdue's season average was 16.3%)
  • In three of Purdue's losses, their opponent's offense had a turnover rate under 10% (Tennessee turned it over 14% in the loss to PU)
When you think about how close Tennessee came to beating Purdue in the first meeting--before Dalton Knecht really broke out and before Zakai Zeigler was in full form--and think about how much UT has improved since then, well, you've got justified hope. If the Vols can again hold the Boilermakers to a low eFG, and if the Vols can create some turnovers like they did in Maui, and if the Vols can limit their own turnovers--which might be the real difference considering how well ZZ has taken care of the ball recently--you've got a recipe for Tennessee to make the first Final Four in school history. The game might very well be a frustrating whistlefest where every call goes the wrong way. But it might not. 

Prediction: Tennessee 73, Purdue 68
Mediocre Betting Advice: (probably don't) Tennessee +3.5, Under 147.5
Prediction Record YTD: 15-5 SU, 11-9 ATS, 10-8-1 O/U


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