What has grown since November comes to an end in March. While there will be only one champion, the entire field can hope for a moment. Just one moment to lead to the chance to make just one more. The last days of the season are the best, as long as you keep winning.
While I don’t want to find out what it’s like to lose to a 14 seed, this season is already safely in the “best” category for Tennessee. I’ve got the t-shirt to prove it. And this is still the same year that started in 13th place in the media poll. Many didn’t think we’d be playing today at all, nevermind as a three seed.
You couldn’t script this season. And it’s really hard to script this team:
- The Vols are 19-3 when shooting at least 33.3% from three. But they also beat Florida, Texas A&M, and won at Rupp Arena shooting less than that.
- The Vols are 17-0 when holding their opponent under 40% from the floor. But they also beat Kentucky twice when the Cats shot above that.
- The Vols are 14-0 when assisting on at least 64% of their made shots. But they beat Purdue and Kentucky when assisting on less than half of their makes.
Who makes this team go?
- Grant Williams has scored 20+ eight times, but the Vols lost two of those games. Meanwhile one of their best performances of the year was at Mississippi State, when he had eight.
- Admiral Schofield has scored 20+ seven times, but only two of those came against tournament teams (Kentucky twice). Meanwhile the Vols beat nine-seed NC State in the Bahamas when Schofield had zero.
- The Vols are 13-2 when Jordan Bowden scores double digits, but just annihilated Arkansas in the SEC Tournament when he had two points.
(All these stats come from the fine folks at Sports Reference)
There was no blueprint for a season like this one in November, and there is no detailed blueprint for what Tennessee does well in March. The Vols play inside-out and defend well enough to give themselves a chance to win every night, but have enough diversity offensively to get that win in a number of different ways. They won the deepest SEC in history, won eight games against tournament teams, and went to the wire with a one seed and a two seed. They ran past Arkansas with 84 points and won in Rupp Arena by holding Kentucky to less than 60. I’m not even sure what a bad match-up would look like for this team, but I know no one will look forward to playing them.
I don’t know what’s going to happen from here. But I do know, whoever we’re facing, Rick Barnes and his staff will give these players a chance to win, one way or another.