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2014 NCAA Tournament Preview: UMass vs. Tennessee - It Feels So Good to be Back

After a sixteen year hiatus the Minutemen are back in the BIG Dance again and look to make the most of their opportunity.

Chaz Williams looks to lead UMass past Tennessee and into the round of 32.
Chaz Williams looks to lead UMass past Tennessee and into the round of 32.

UMass has waited a painstakingly long sixteen years to finally dance in March. Opposite the No. 6 seeded Massachusetts Minutemen will be the No. 11 Tennessee Volunteers on Friday at 2:45 p.m. The second round game takes place in Raleigh, N.C. with the winner facing either Duke or Mercer.

Tennessee is fresh off of a win against the Iowa Hawkeyes in the "first round", beating Iowa 78-65 in OT. Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes led the way for the Volunteers scoring 20 and 18 points respectively. McRae and Stokes are the leaders of this Tennessee team and will need to be equally as dominant if the Vols want to continue dancing.

Due to Tennessee just earning its spot in the field of 64, UMass hasn't had the time to prepare for their opponent like most tournament teams. The Minutemen have also been a popular pick to be upset for many people when filling out the beloved bracket. They come into the tournament after getting beat soundly at the hands of George Washington 85-77. The Minutemen have been up and down as of late, with alternating wins and losses in their last six games. Cady Lalanne has been struggling as well since mid-February, causing UMass to lose their dominant inside presence offensively.

Tennessee is red-hot coming into the tournament winning six of their last seven; the lone loss was to the No. 1 Florida Gators in the SEC conference tournament. The Vols have one of the stingiest defenses in the country, only giving up 61.2 points per game good for No. 17 in the country. They are headed by McRae and Stokes, who are as good of a tandem as you will find in the nation.

McRae leads the team in scoring with 18.6 per game. He also has made the most 3-point shots on the team with 77 on the year and has a good percentage to boot at 37 percent. Stokes is a beast inside and can score seemingly at will. He averages just shy of 15 points per game and does that on 53.1 percent shooting and is also a monster on the glass with 10.4 rebounds per game. Stokes may only stand 6-feet-8, but is a solid 260 lbs. He and fellow forward Jeronne Maymon, who averages 8.2 boards to go along with his 10 points per contest, are the reason why Tennessee is rated No. 20 in the county in rebounds per game at 38.8.

Maxie Esho had as good of a conference tournament as anyone in the country, scoring 18.5 points per game and average 7 boards during their brief run through the A-10 tournament. He will need to carry that momentum as Lalanne's offensive production has dropped off compared to earlier in the season. Raphiael Putney has also struggled to score and shoot the three, something he did effectively when UMass opened the season at 16-1.

Chaz Williams will be looked upon again this game to carry the team on both sides of the floor, something he does so well. The speed in which he plays the game is unparalleled and something that Tennessee hasn't quite seen yet. Don't be surprised to see him run a few circles around that imposing Tennessee defense.

Coach Derek Kellogg arguably has his alma-mater playing at its highest level since John Calipari led the Minutemen to the Final Four in 1996. Tennessee will want to grind it out defensively, while UMass will want to run and get transition baskets. Whoever is able to push the game to their style of play will have a significant advantage. UMass' half-court offense has been struggling down the stretch as they settle for too many contested jumpshots at times. Derrick Gordon however, has been able to get to the basket and create his own shot at times. It will be interesting to see if this game ends up in a defensive struggle or a run and gun shootout.