The round of 32 matchup between the Loyola men’s basketball team and the University of Tennessee Volunteers will feature two teams that played their conference tournament in the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, two conference Coaches of the Year in Tennessee’s Rick Barnes and Loyola’s Porter Moser, two conference Players of the Year in Tennessee’s Grant Williams and Loyola’s Clayton Custer and two conference Sixth Men of the Year in Tennessee’s Lamonte Turner and Loyola’s Aundre Jackson.
Tennessee finished in a tie for first place in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) in the regular season, but lost in the SEC tournament championship to the University of Kentucky.
The Volunteers, or Vols as they’re commonly called, will play a similar style of basketball as the University of Miami. The Ramblers beat Miami 64-62 in the first round of the NCAA tournament on a last second three-pointer from senior guard Donte Ingram.
Tennessee will lean on its star sophomore forward Williams in the post. Williams scored 37 points Jan. 9 against Vanderbilt University and has been double-teamed by most opponents since then, according to SECcountry.com’s Tennessee beat writer Mike Griffith.
Williams is 6-foot-7 and will be a tough matchup in the post for Loyola’s front court, Jackson and first-year center Cameron Krutwig. Williams averages 15.3 ppg and 6 rpb this season.
Loyola head coach Porter Moser sarcastically said he needed 15 rebounds each from Krutwig and Jackson to keep up with Williams. Moser said Williams is one of the best big men in the country.
“I think the thing that really impresses me is how fundamental Williams is posting up,” Moser said. “He is the best duck-in guy in the country.”
The constant double-teams on Williams have opened up space for Tennessee’s junior forward Admiral Schofield. Schofield is a Zion native who was recruited by Moser out of high school and played against Ingram in AAU and high school basketball.
Schofield averages 13.8 ppg this season and provides a matchup problem for most teams. He has the speed to blow past most forwards, but is too big and strong to be guarded by most guards. Loyola’s best answer for Schofield will likely be Ingram, who at 6-foot-6 provides similar matchup problems. The two former high school rivals battling will be a fun matchup to watch.
Tennessee’s center is 6-foot-11 junior Kyle Alexander, who will mostly be a rim protector for the Volunteers, according to Griffith, and is often very hot and cold when shooting.
Before the tournament, Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes called out Alexander for being inconsistent.
The game will be decided in the post because the guards wash each other out.
The three guards in the main rotation for the Vols will be 6-foot-5 sophomore Jordan Bowden, 6-foot-3 sophomore Jordan Bone and 6-foot-1 redshirt sophomore Lamonte Turner.
They will be matched up against Loyola’s guards Clayton Custer, Ben Richardson and Marques Townes.
Bowden can get hot from three-point range, but although he can be streaky, according to Griffith, he will mostly provide perimeter defense for the Vols with his long arms.
Bone — whose brother transferred from Loyola’s Missouri Valley Conference rival Southern Illinois University — is explosive and has a knack for getting to the rim. His role is similar to Richardson and Custer’s, and will be key for providing energy and tempo to the Tennessee offense.
Turner is a great three-point shooter, shooting 40 percent from three this season, and will be the guy with the ball in his hands in crunch time for Tennessee if they need a big shot.
Barnes isn’t attached to any particular lineup and will also rotate in redshirt senior James Daniel and redshirt first-year John Fulkerson if any of the main guys aren’t playing well, according to Griffith.
Tennessee will also try to get to the free throw line as much as possible. The Volunteers have shot 76.7 percent from the charity stripe this season. Loyola will try to avoid sending Tennessee to the line for easy points, which has been a strength for the Ramblers all season. Loyola hasn’t had a single player foul out all year.
Loyola and Tennessee are scheduled to face off at 5:10 p.m. on TNT at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.