by Jake Wilson
Friday, March 21 – 12:15 pm ET
BJCC – Birmingham, AL
Television: CBS (region by region) – Verne Lundquist (play-by-play) and Bill Raftery (color)
Internet video: March Madness On Demand (free)
Radio: 570 AM WTNT (Washington, DC)
Internet audio: wtntam570.com
The Tale of the Tape (national ranking)
|60.9 (324)||Possessions per 40 minutes||72.7 (15)|
|65.1 (247)||Points per game||83.0 (5)|
|107.2 (78)||Efficiency||1.13 (13)|
|52.8 (60)||Effective FG percentage||52.8 (57)|
|41.2 (3)||3-point FG percentage||36.4 (108)|
|46.7 (241)||2-point FG percentage||51.7 (56)|
|40.0 (50)||3-point frequency||39.1 (65)|
|55.4 (154)||Assist percentage||61.0 (53)|
|21.3 (198)||Turnover percentage||17.6 (18)|
|31.9 (209)||Rebounding percentage||37.2 (31)|
|31.4 (20)||Free throw frequency||24.1 (207)|
|74.6 (26)||Free throw percentage||65.4 (286)|
|61.8 (32)||Points per game||70.1 (207)|
|1.01 (152)||Efficiency||0.98 (70)|
|47.5 (68)||Effective FG percentage||49.2 (136)|
|35.1 (172)||3-point FG percentage||31.0 (19)|
|44.7 (42)||2-point FG percentage||50.8 (260)|
|35.5 (214)||3-point frequency||35.6 (218)|
|55.4 (188)||Assist percentage||55.5 (194)|
|19.2 (269)||Turnover percentage||24.4 (23)|
|30.6 (76)||Rebounding percentage||34.7 (253)|
|38.2 (203)||Free throw frequency||39.4 (231)|
Style of play
This might be the biggest contrast in tempo in this year’s NCAA Tournament. American plays at one of the slowest paces in the nation, averaging 60.9 possessions. At the other extreme, Tennessee ranks 15th in tempo at 72.7 possessions per 40 minutes. The stereotype of the underdog looking to slow things down and minimize possessions should turn out to be the case in this one.
At American’s end
Tennessee isn’t known for its defense, but the Volunteers are in top quartile of Division I teams defensively. The most alarming defensive statistic for Tennessee is the 31.0 percent opponents have shot from three this season. That’s very bad news for an American side that relies heavily on the three-point arc and finished third in the nation in three-point shooting at 41.2 percent. While something will have to give on the perimeter, the Eagles will have to find a way to score inside. The Volunteers rank 260th in opponent two-point shooting percentage, however this has been a weak area for American at just 46.7 percent. The Eagles may have some success getting to the line, which they have done with great frequency this season and the Volunteers have allowed opponents to get there with regularity. The biggest concern offensively for American will be taking care of the ball, which has been a problem this season and Tennessee ranks 23rd in the nation at forcing turnovers.
At Tennessee’s end
Like American, Tennessee is three-point oriented, taking nearly 40 percents of its shots from outside the arc and knocking down 36.4 percent of them. It will be interesting to see whether Bruce Pearl has his guards looking to penetrate and working the ball inside, where the Volunteers shoot 51.7 percent. The Eagles have defended well inside the arc, allowing just 44.7 percent shooting this season, but they’ll be tested by Tennessee’s athleticism. American has done a solid job on the defensive glass, and it will need to do so again today against a team that grabs an impressive 37.2 percent of rebounds at its offensive end. Don’t look for too many giveaways when the Vols have the ball, as they rank 18th in the nation in turnover percentage and the Eagles don’t turn over other teams very much at all.
Stat to watch
Three-point shooting. These are two teams that like to put it up from the outside. American shoots it better as a team, but Tennessee defends the three-point arc much better.
How American can win
First of all, the Eagles will need to hit their aforementioned threes. However, they’ll also need to take very good care of the ball against an opportunistic Volunteer defense that looks to turn over opponents and create transition opportunities, so there’s a tempo control element at stake here. If the game is called tightly and turns into a free throw shooting contest, this will be a huge boost to American (26th in free throw shooting) and a problem for a Tennessee squad that ranks 286th in the nation from the line at just 65.4 percent. Additionally, the Eagles will need to keep the Volunteers off the offensive glass to limit second chances.
The Volunteers’ height advantage on the perimeter could make it tough for the Eagles’ diminutive sharpshooters to get open looks, and you can bet Pearl will have his team keying on shutting down the America long range attack. Tennessee is upset at its perceived snub by the selection committee in the form of a 2 seed, and they’ll be trying to take that out on American. This one could get out of hand late in the half and become a situation where the Eagles are just looking to keep things from getting embarrassing. It’s difficulty to see the Patriot League’s streak of coming within 11 or fewer points in the first round of the NCAA Tournament extending to eight.