Technically Tennessee was an 11 seed, and an 11 beating a six is supposed to be an upset. But in the way the Volunteers blew UMass out of the building, it sure didn't feel like they were any sort of underdog. The Vols shot 53.6 percent and held the Minutemen to 28-of-66 from the field, moving onto the round of 32 with a 86-67 win.
Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McRae continued their stellar play from the First Four victory over Iowa on Wednesday. Stokes scored 26 points and pulled down 14 rebounds, while McRae added 21 points on 9-of-16 shooting. Just a few weeks ago, the Volunteers' weren't a lock to make the tournament, and coach Cuonzo Martin was feeling a lot of heat from fans. But the team that dominated UMass on Friday sure didn't look like the same team that lost four out of six at one point in February.
Martin emphasized defense coming into the season, but Tennessee took a bit of time to get it. But in the past eight games, including in the SEC tournament, the Vols have bought in. Tennessee is bodying up, grabbing rebounds, rotating and playing great man-to-man defense -- and making its opponents miserable in the process. There's a reason the Volunteers are ranked eighth in the country by KenPom.com, above much higher-seeded tournament teams Michigan State, Duke, Creighton, Syracuse and Michigan.
Next up, Tennessee draws the darling of the tournament, Mercer, which beat third-seeded Duke earlier in the day. It's hard to see the Volunteers opting to shoot jumpers (hint: they really don't like to) the way the Blue Devils did. Tennessee will instead look to out-hustle and out-muscle the Bears the way it did against the Minutemen.
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