IOWA (23-11) VS. TENNESSEE (30-5)
DATE: March 24, 2019
TIME: 11:10 a.m. CT
LOCATION: Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio
RADIO: Learfield Sports
STREAMING: CBS March Madness Live
LINE: Tennessee -8
KENPOM: Tennessee -7 (Iowa 26% win probability)
Rick Barnes has been at Tennessee for three seasons now. Last year, he really got the Vols rolling. Tennessee was 25-8 heading into the Big Dance, and landed a well-deserved three seed. And then Kyle Alexander was held out of the second round with an injury, and they lost to Loyola-Chicago.
Before coming to Tennessee, Barnes had been at Texas. He made the NCAA Tournament 14 times in 15 seasons, a remarkable record. But Barnes only got out of the first weekend four times in those 14 appearances. His 2011 team entered the Tournament as Kenpom #5 and lost in the second round to Arizona. His 2007 team was eliminated in the second round despite featuring Kevin Durant. Rick Barnes has been coaching for the last 19 seasons without a year off, and he last made the second weekend in 2008.
On paper, Tennessee is daunting. Junior forward Grant Williams (6'7", 235) is the two-time defending SEC Player of the Year and a true do-it-all guy for the Vols. Williams leads the team in scoring (18.7 ppg) and rebounds (7.5 rpg) while managing more than three assists per game. Senior guard/forward Admiral Schofield (6'6", 240) takes nearly five three-point attempts per game and makes 41 percent of them; he averages 16.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per contest. Guards Jordan Bone (6'3", 180) and Lamonte Turner (6'2", 195) also take a bunch of threes and score at a healthy clip, but none of them are specialists. Every player on the court for Tennessee is capable of scoring from anywhere inside the arc. Tennessee is third nationally in offensive efficiency despite ranking 325th in three-point attempt rate, mostly because they don't turn it over and make a bunch of shots from everywhere. Their rotation is entirely upperclassmen who have done this before. Oh, and they can counter size with senior center Kyle Alexander (6'11", 215), in case you were just going to Garza them to death.
They are, in short, a handful. The four teams that have beaten Tennessee this year: Kansas, Kentucky, Auburn, and LSU. Gonzaga couldn't beat them. Neither could Mississippi State, or Florida, or Kentucky on two other occasions. Every team that beat Tennessee this year cracked 80 points, and Tennessee has not won a game where its opponent scored more than 81. But with a top 40 efficiency defense on the other sideline, getting to 80 isn't easy.
But Tennessee isn't deep -- they've gone with essentially seven players all year -- and they're susceptible to a team that draws fouls and get to the line. In all of Tennessee's five losses, they got murdered on free throw differential. There's nothing Iowa likes to do more than get opponents into foul trouble and feast on free throws, and Tennessee could potentially be vulnerable to that most efficient part of Iowa's gameplan.
But if you're truly looking for hope against a team that provides remarkably little, look back at Rick Barnes. Because Rick Barnes routinely loses this game, with better teams, against worse teams. If that particular history holds on Sunday morning, Iowa might break a Sweet Sixteen slump even longer than Barnes'.