Wright State comes in 135th in KenPom; that’s the lowest 14 seed and lower than two 15 seeds. Since opening with Presbyterian and High Point, the Vols have only played two teams with a lower KenPom rating: Mercer (148) on November 29, and Lipscomb (165) on December 9. That’s what the fourth-best schedule in the nation looks like.
The Raiders know winning. After an 0-3 start including losses to tourney-bound Loyola-Chicago and Murray State, they won eight of their next ten and then started 7-0 in the Horizon League. There was an issue with guard Justin Mitchell around this time, who apparently left the team in a dispute over playing time. Mitchell averaged 11 points and seven rebounds per game.
Northern Kentucky won the conference, but Wright State swept them. Northern Kentucky is 95th in KenPom and is the best win on Wright State’s resume. They didn’t see them in the conference tournament, rolling past Green Bay by 15, Milwaukee by six, and Cleveland State by 17 in the title game.
As Northern Kentucky is the best team they’ve beaten and Loyola-Chicago is the best team they’ve played (do not – DO NOT – sleep on those guys, 41st in KenPom), Tennessee should be a step up from anything they’ve seen.
What Wright State does well:
- Defense. Wright State is 53rd in KenPom’s defensive efficiency ratings. That would still be just 11th-best in the SEC, but it’s worth noting. Opponents shoot just 41.4% against them and average 65.7 points per game.
- Getting to the free throw line. 21% of their points come at the stripe, and the Raiders are 57th nationally in free throws attempted. Three players shoot better than 81% from the stripe; leading scorer Grant Benzinger shoots 89%, 33rd nationally.
- Can they guard Grant Williams? They’ll put 6’11” Parker Ernsthausen and 6’9″, 275 lbs Loudon Love on the floor at the same time. Seriously, this dude is a tree. So I’m not sure the ‘ol back-em-down will be option number one.
What Tennessee can do to win:
- More Defense. This will be true as long as we’re in this thing, but it’s especially true here: if the Vols are going to run away from this team, they’ll do it on the defensive end. Wright State is 248th nationally in KenPom’s offensive efficiency ratings. They may hang their hat on defense, but so should Tennessee. The top three seeds in the South region are ranked first, second, and fourth nationally in KenPom defense. No one is getting to or getting out of Atlanta without making things ugly. If the Vols are committed to excellence on the defense end, Wright State shouldn’t threaten the Vols even in a low-scoring game.
- Exploit size on the perimeter. Ernsthausen and Love provide plenty of size inside, but Wright State’s guards lack length. Playing a team like Kentucky changes everything about how you get good shots, but against the Raiders the Vols should find more opportunities for productive penetration. I’m curious to see how often the Vols put their three guards and Williams/Schofield lineup on the floor against this team to create a mismatch for the Admiral.
- Let talent prevail. Wright State is huge inside, but they’re not particularly great at blocking shots: 6.7% is the 288th worst block percentage in the nation. So while Grant Williams may not be backing down Loudon Love, he may still be able to get good shots. The Vols took care of business every single time against a mid-major this season, the first time that’s happened in eight years. With defense was the catalyst, the Vols should be able to do the same thing here.
We’ll have more on the bracket this week. The Vols go at 12:40 PM on Thursday, check your local listings for TruTV.