On Sunday night the UMass Minutemen found out that they would be the No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament's Midwest region and would be playing on Friday afternoon. What they did not find out, however, is who they would be playing. That will be decided Wednesday night when the Iowa Hawkeyes and Tennessee Volunteers face off for the right to be the Midwest's No. 11 seed and go for the upset against the Minutemen.
The play in game will be held Wednesday night at 9:10 p.m. EST in Dayton and will be the final game of the First Four.
The Vols are one of the hotter teams in the country right now having won five of their last six games to finish the regular season/conference tournament at 21-12. Prior to their loss to Florida in the SEC Semifinals, Tennessee was riding a five-game winning streak in which they did not trail once. Cuonzo Martin's team fell to Florida three times, Kentucky once, but have a 35-point win over No. 1 seeded Virginia on their resume - even if that loss was the starting point for the Cavaliers' run.
WHO TO WATCH: Jordan McRae is the guy you absolutely gave to know when you talk about Tennessee basketball. The senior guard averaged 18.6 points per game this season, good for fourth in the SEC, and does a little bit of everything for the Vols. He isn't an outstanding three-point shooter, but he gets the job done at 37.1 percent. At 6-foot-6, 185 pounds McRae would likely draw the defensive ire of Derrick Gordon, but you could probably get away with having Maxie Esho deal with him if you play him with two other bigs. Personally, I'd like to see Gordon handle him but Derek Kellogg will have to get creative in order to slow him down.
The other big names on Tennessee are Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon. Both players stand 6-foot-8, average double digits (14.7 for Stokes, 10.1 for Maymon), more than eight rebounds (10.3 for Stokes, 8.2 for Maymon), and shoot over 50 percent from the field (52.7 percent for Stokes, 52.9 percent for Maymon). The big man rotation will be busy with those two and it will be imperative that Cady Lalanne stay out of foul trouble. If Stokes and Maymon can hurt UMass inside, its going to be a long afternoon for the Minutemen.
HOW THEY MATCHUP: UMass will have some matchup advantages over the Volunteers if everything works in their favor, but that hasn't really happened since the 10-game winning streak they opened the season with. Chaz Williams is the Minutemen's single biggest advantage over every team simply because of how fast and smart of a player he is. Tennessee will struggle with him simply because everyone struggles with him.
The battleground will be in the paint where Stokes and Maymon will be physical with Lalanne and Sampson Carter. Neither player has quite been the same guy he was earlier in the season and if there was ever a game for them to wake up its this one. Most tournament teams will feature talented frontcourt players and UMass is fortunate that they could potentially draw an undersized tandem in their first game. Lalanne has the talent to swing that matchup by himself, but whether or not he can do it on Friday is an altogether different question.
This would be one of the best Round of 64 games on the schedule if it were to take place. Here's to hoping we get it.