When the UMass Minutemen and Tennessee Volunteers take the court on Friday afternoon, it will be the first time UMass has stepped on the NCAA Tournament stage since 1998. This is a pretty big deal, so we don't want to leave any stone unturned. In that vein, we have teamed up with the fine folks from Rocky Top Talk, SBNation's Tennessee community, to get some answers regarding the Vols and how Friday should go.
Helping us with this is Senior Writer and Editor of Rocky Top Talk, Will Shelton. Will was kind enough to answer my questions, so you should be kind enough to follow him on Twitter Follow @wshelton2
For our answers to their questions, check out RTT's post here.
Q: Heck of a game Wednesday night, huh? Has Tennessee demonstrated a knack for coming back on teams before this year or was this something new to Vols fans?
Will Shelton (@wshelton2): Here's the weird thing about Tennessee: we haven't won a close game all year. Technically that's still true since the Vols won by 13 in overtime against Iowa. Tennessee's smallest margin of victory this year is seven points; that one came against Arkansas in Knoxville where the Vols were down eight with 11 minutes to play. Other than a sloppy start against USC Upstate in November, Tennessee hadn't really come back to win on anyone other than Arkansas, until last night. Tennessee's thing has been to either blow teams out or lose a close game. So even though it was a 13 point win, we'll see how much confidence last night's ending gives this team going forward.
Q: We know about Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McRae, but who should UMass really be focused on stopping in order to beat the Vols?
Will Shelton (@wshelton2): Josh Richardson is Tennessee's defensive stopper, but he played the game of his life offensively against Iowa with 17 points and 8 rebounds, including six straight points with ten minutes to play to really keep the Vols alive. We'll see if that was an exception on Friday. Tennessee's offense usually goes as point guard Antonio Barton goes; Stokes and McRae are seasoned vets who tend to get what they get with great regularity, but Barton is often the difference between Tennessee's best offense and Tennessee having to rely on their defense. He is incredibly streaky; last night he airballed a couple in the first half but nailed two huge threes down the stretch in the second half.
Q: UMass played and beat LSU early in the year. Tennesse did as well. What can you take from those results when looking at how this game might go?
Will Shelton (@wshelton2): LSU plays at the Minutemen's speed, but Tennessee was able to drastically slow them down in the SEC opener with a 68-50 win in Baton Rouge. The Vols jumped LSU early with a 14 point halftime lead and held the Tigers to 36.7% from the floor. Tennessee is just really good defensively when they want to be, and right now they definitely want to be, and can really frustrate the opposition. And that game is a perfect example of what happens when Barton is hot: he hit 4 of 7 threes that night, completely opening things up for Stokes and McRae.
Q: UMass likes to play and up-and-down, fast-paced game. Does Tennessee tend to do well in games like that, or do the Vols prefer to set the tempo?
Will Shelton (@wshelton2): The Vols will get out and run more than they're given credit for, but their defense tends to slow everything else down. Iowa is a great example again: the Hawkeyes were averaging 82 points per game and left with 65 including overtime. There are times when Tennessee probably gets out and runs more than they should, but Cuonzo Martin has been great about reeling that stuff back in recently. UT's pace is more related to just playing an inside-out game where the offense runs through Stokes and chances are created via ball movement off the ensuing double-team. But because Stokes and Jeronne Maymon are such good offensive rebounders, Tennessee usually doesn't send anyone else to the glass and is able to set up solid transition defense. Iowa certainly broke it at times, but overall the Vols held up pretty well.
Q: Stokes and Maymon are tough interior presences, but how have they dealt with guys like Cady Lalanne who have them by a couple inches?
Will Shelton (@wshelton2): I would've answered this question differently before last night, and then Iowa's 7'1" Adam Woodbury went off for 16 points on 8 of 11 shooting on Stokes. Jarnell and Jeronne make an impact because of their strength, not their size; neither is more than 6'8" and neither is a great leaper. Stokes used to struggle a lot with length but has gotten a lot better this year offensively; he still had a good game scoring against Iowa. But Woodbury ate him alive on the other end of the floor, and that's certainly a possibility for Lalanne. But Stokes also got his career high of 24 points against UMass last year while Lalanne was held to five, and that was without Maymon on the floor (out with a knee injury) to be another physical presence inside, so I'd think the Vols like their chances to continue to be successful in the interior.