What I learned From Raleigh: Virginia Cavaliers and Tennessee Volunteers
The SI.com writers who covered the first weekend of the NCAA tournament offer their takeaways on each of the teams from their sites that advanced to the Sweet 16:
Other sites: Buffalo (UConn and Dayton) | Milwaukee (Michigan and Wisconsin) | Orlando (Florida and Louisville | San Antonio (Iowa State and Baylor) | San Diego (Arizona and UCLA) | St. Louis (Kentucky and Stanford) | Spokane (Michigan State and San Diego State)
Seed: No. 1 seed in the East
“We just showed how we can impose our will on teams with opposite styles of play,” said sophomore forward Evan Nolte.
Virginia surgically dispatched Memphis on Sunday, offering a clinic in off-ball screens, shot selection and grinding out both ends of the floor. Memphis Coach Josh Pastner observed that UVA’s Tony Bennett gets credit as a defensive mastermind, but he said Virginia’s offense is vastly underrated. (UVA is No. 20 in KenPom.com’s offensive efficiency but just No. 280 in overall scoring with 66.4 ppg).
“I believe the reason that they’re so good is their offense,” Memphis Coach Josh Pastner says. “It sets up their defense. They move without the ball as well as any team in the country and set great screens.”
Virginia didn’t play crisply against Coastal Carolina in the first half on Friday, falling behind by as many as 10 points. But UVA showcased its other strength – versatility. UVA got 27 points from its bench, including 17 from redshirt sophomore forward Anthony Gill. The game’s biggest shots came from Nolte, who buried two three-pointers from the left corner within a minute to help Virginia finally extend its lead with seven minutes left. UVA found its synergy against Memphis much earlier, and the battle with Michigan State will be an intense test of wills.
Seed: No 7 in East
The Vols bullied their way to three double-digit victories in five days, a No. 11 seeds dispatching foes like a No. 1.
Star forward Jarnell Stokes served as the engine for Tennessee, as he averaged 15 rebounds a game. Stokes nearly outrebounded the entire Mercer team himself on Sunday night, as he grabbed 18 boards to the Bears’ 19. He's led this team on a path Drake could appreciate.
“We went to the NIT two straight years,” he said. “I guess you could say that’s starting from the bottom. A lot of people doubted us. It makes the ride much better.” Tennessee will face No. 2 Michigan in the round of 16 in Indianapolis. The Vols are playing loose and easy, the type of play you’d expect from a team that starts five upperclassmen. The most surprising part of Tennessee’s run of dominance is that the Vols are shooting just 22-percent from three-point range (13-for-57). If the Vols keep pounding the ball inside against Michigan, they could find themselves a long way from the bottom.