On Sunday Iowa is set to boldly go where Iowa State and Wisconsin will not be going this year: the second round of the NCAA Tournament. They're facing Tennessee (11:10 AM CT, CBS), the 2-seed in the South region, so making the Sweet 16 is going to be a big challenge. But what do we know about the Volunteers?
1) They Won a Lot of Games -- But Not the SEC
Tennessee is 30-5 overall this season and went 27-4 in the regular season. Those gaudy records did not come with any hardware, though -- in fact, it was two losses to the same team (Auburn) that prevented them from winning either the SEC regular season championship or the SEC conference tournament title. Tennessee lost to Auburn 84-80 on the last day of the regular season, which cost them a share of the regular season crown. And, like Iowa, they ended their conference tournament by getting vaporized. Unlike Iowa, they just made it to the championship game before getting waxed 84-64 by Auburn.
The only other games they lost were to Kansas and LSU (both in OT) and at Kentucky. Not exactly any bad losses to be found there. But they also had two wins over Kentucky, a win over then-#1 Gonzaga, and several more wins over NCAA Tournament teams (Louisville, Florida x2, Mississippi State x2, Ole Miss).
2) Grant Williams is a Stud
Iowa played the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year on Friday (CIncinnati's Jarron Cumberland). Sunday they'll get to see the SEC Player of the Year in Tennessee's Grant Williams. Williams, a 6-7, 236 lb junior, led the SEC in scoring at 19 ppg on 56.5% shooting. He can hit the odd three (he made 14/42 this year), but he mainly does his damage near the rim, where he makes 59.6% of his 2-point shots. He's also a good free throw shooter, converting 82% of his attempts there, and makes frequent trips to the line (he's averaging 7.1 attempts per game). Williams also averages 7.6 rebounds per game, 3.1 assists per game, 1.1 steals per game, and 1.4 blocks per game. So he does a little bit of everything and does it quite well.
3) The Vols Are Definitely Not a One-Man Team
Williams is the star attraction for Tennessee, but they have a very good supporting cast, too. Like Williams, Admiral Schofield earned first team All-SEC honors, while Jordan Bone earned second team All-SEC honors. Schofield, a 6-6, 241 lb wing, is averaging 16.3 ppg (5th in the SEC) 47.5% shooting. He's also their top three-point shooter, attempting 4.7 per game and making 41.2% of those efforts. Schofield also averages 6.1 rpg, 2.1 apg, and 0.9 steals per game.
Bone, a 6-3, 180 lb guard, averaged 6.0 assists per game, tops in the SEC, and also ranked third on the team in scoring, with 13.5 ppg on 46.8% shooting. Bone also averaged 0.7 steals per game and is another lights out free throw shooter (83%), though he's not a huge three-point threat (34.8%). Kyle Alexander, a 6-11, 215 lb center, adds to the impressive interior presence Tennesse boasts; despite playing only 23.5 minutes per game, Alexander is averaging 6.5 rpg and 1.7 blocks per game. He's also shooting 61.7% from the field, so he's able to convert his chances when he gets them.
The other two players to know on the Vols are Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner, who fill out the Tennessee back court. Bowden, a 6-5, 193 lb guard, is averaging 10.6 ppg on 45.9% shooting and is their other main three-point shooting threat (37% from long range). Turner, a 6-2, 195 lb guard, is also averaging double figures, 10.7 ppg, on 41.7% shooting and also dishing out 3.8 assists per game and leading the team with 1.3 steals per game.
4) Tennessee Probably Isn't Going to Bomb Away
Tennessee is a pretty good 3-point shooting team overall (as a team they're makign 36.1% of their deep attempts, which ranks 87th in the country), but that's not a big part of their offensive gameplan. They attempt threes on just 32.1% of their total field goal attempts, which ranks 325th in the nation. So how does Tennesee rank 3rd in offensive efficiency? They shoot the ball really well, period; their eFG% is 55.2%, 21st in the country. They're excellent inside the three-point line, making 55.7% of their 2-point attempts. They also get more 2-point attempts by virtue of their above average offensive rebounding and their shots almost never get blocked (only 6.2% of the time) and they don't turn the ball over much (just 15.8% of their offensive possessions end in turnovers, 25th best nationally). And while they don't get to the free throw line a lot (their free throw rate is middle of the pack), they don't miss much when they get there, making 76.6% of their free throw attempts.
5) Threes and Free Throws Could Be Key
Against Cincinnati, Iowa shot very well from outside, making 11/22 three-point attempts. That Iowa managed to shoot threes that well even with Jordan Bohannon making just 1/4 attempts is particularly impressive. In Tennessee's last two losses (against Auburn), their opponent torched them from deep. In the SEC tournament title game, Auburn made 15/40 tries from long range; that's "only" 37.5%, but... 15 threes is a lot! In the regular season finale, Auburn made 13/34 triples. That was also "just" 38% from outside, but again... 13 threes is a lot! We've seen Iowa have a few games like that this year, where they got hot from outside and buried a ton of threes. That could be one way for them to pull the upset in this game.
Not all of the teams who beat Tennessee torched the Vols from deep, though. LSU beat them and was 8/25 from deep, while Kentucky hammered them (86-69) and was only 5/13 from deep. Kansas beat them despite shooting only 5/17 from beyond the arc. All three teams beat Tennessee in large part due to huge advantages at the free throw line. Kansas drew 25 fouls from Tennessee and made 22/34 free throws (compared to 12/17 for the Vols). Kentucky also drew 25 fouls and made 23/33 free throws (versus 14/18 for Tennessee). And LSU drew 22 fouls and made 24/31 free throws (while Tennessee made just 12/16). Iowa was relatively poor at the free throw line against Cincinnati (10/16) and their ability to draw fouls and get to the line has fallen off from the elite level it was at early in the season, but we've seen them draw tons of fouls and make hay at the free throw line in the past. Getting back to that in this game would be huge for their upset hopes.