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By: Dallas Bowlin

Senior Staff Writer/Editor/Host

The All Vol Call In Show

History feels within reach as Tennessee eyes its first-ever Final Four berth, just two wins away. But before that dream can be realized, the Volunteers must advance to the Elite Eight—a stage they've reached only once before in 2010. To progress, they'll need to topple the Creighton BlueJays from the Big East conference.

Creighton is led by head coach Greg McDermott, now in his 14th season at the helm of the BlueJays. With a regular season record of 23-8, including an impressive 85-66 victory over the NCAA Tournament's number-one overall seed, UConn.

Roster-wise, the BlueJays are anchored by senior guard Baylor Scheierman, junior guard Trey Alexander, and senior center Ryan Kalkbrenner. However, Creighton's depth beyond these three key players is limited. In their recent 86-73 double-overtime victory over Oregon in the Tournament, Scheierman played 50 minutes, Alexander 50 minutes, and Kalkbrenner 49 minutes. Should Tennessee manage to put the BlueJays in foul trouble, Creighton could find themselves in a precarious position.

Offensively, Creighton boasts the 11th-best adjusted offensive efficiency in the country. Yet, their toughest defensive challenge came against number-eight UConn, resulting in a 62-48 defeat, where they shot  34% from the field and 23% from beyond the arc. While they fared better in their second meeting with the Huskies, it's worth noting that the game was played on Creighton's home court.

A significant strength of the BlueJays lies in their ability to finish at the rim, boasting a 72.4% conversion rate within four feet—an impressive 10.5% above the Division I average. Additionally, they convert 48.6% of their attempts from the mid-range,  12% higher than the Division I average. However, their reliance on three-point shooting leaves them vulnerable; a struggle from long range could hinder their offense significantly.

While UConn's defense poses a formidable challenge, the BlueJays have yet to face a defense as elite as Tennessee's. Tennessee's defensive trio of Santiago Vescovi, Jahmai Mashack, and Zakai Zeigler,  as well as Jordan Gainey who is an underrated defender in his own right, have the potential to wear down Creighton's key players if they're forced to log extended minutes.

Defensively, Creighton adopts a strategy of forcing opponents into mid-range attempts, which can be effective but risky. Players like Dalton Knecht have demonstrated the ability to capitalize on such opportunities, making it imperative for Creighton to remain vigilant.

As the game approaches, attention also turns to Tennessee's frontcourt players. Their performance in pick-and-roll situations could be pivotal, provided the ball handler makes the correct decisions and the big men finish effectively. I for one do not share the same concerns as others when it comes to Tobe Awaka. I feel this is the perfect matchup for him, and I hope to be proven right. 

Ultimately, the outcome remains uncertain, as March Madness is known for its unpredictability. According to EvanMiya's matchup predictor, Tennessee is favored to win a closely contested game, with a projected score of 72-70 and a 58.2% chance of victory. Both teams are well aware of the stakes, so be buckled up for a close, nerve-wrenching game, no matter which team you cheer for. 

Stats | EvanMiya, CBBAnalytics, and ESPN.

Photo | Tennessee Athletics

Graphic | Dallas Bowlin


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