After a lackluster first weekend of the NCAA Tournament that featured few outright upsets and buzzer beaters, the Sweet 16 round features some great matchups with tight point spreads. I’m excited about the South Region game between 3rd seeded Purdue and the 2nd seeded Tennessee Vols. Purdue is hot off of a blowout win over Villanova, 87-61 and Tennessee was lucky to survive a furious comeback from Iowa, to advance 83-77 in OT. The Boilers are riding the hot shooting hand of Carson Edwards who is shooting 46% from 3pt and is averaging 34 pts in his two Tourney games (ODU, Villanova). Edwards is a volume shooter and his volume has been on high in the Tourney where he has attempted 28 3pt FG’s in two games compared to 10 per game this season. If Edwards shoots the lights out again, the Vols will be in trouble as they have allowed their last six opponents to shoot 40% from beyond the arc. Purdue’s other guard, Ryan Cline, is also a good 3pt shooter (40.6%), attempting 7 per game. The Vols will look to Lamonte Turner to shadow Edwards on the perimeter and Edwards is looking forward to the challenge saying “I’m taking it personally to come out and take on that matchup, and I’m looking forward to it.” Turner did a nice job on Edwards when the Vols edged Purdue 78-75 in an early season tournament in the Bahamas last season, where Edwards went just 2-9 from beyond the arc. The Vols are led by Grant Williams (18.8 ppg, 7.5 reb) and Admiral Schofield 16.4 ppg, 6 reb) but have 5 players who average double figures, so they can get scoring throughout their lineup. The Vols are a better two point shooting team than Purdue (50% – 44.6%) and shoot better from the foul line (76% – 73%) while attempting 105 more foul shots. The point here is that the Vols don’t have to rely as heavily on the 3 point shot as Purdue and if they shoot sub-par from 3, they can still manufacture offense. This matchup is very even in most categories and should be a close one on the scoreboard. If Carson Edwards continues his “Kemba Walker” impersonation, the Vols will be in trouble, however, if the 3’s aren’t falling like they did against Villanova (16-30, 53.3%), the Boilers will have to rely on their defense to keep them in this game. The Vols’ second half meltdown against Iowa, where they gave up a 25 point lead, will give HC Rick Barnes a lot to ride his players about this week in practice and I believe they will be ready for this 40 minute showdown. Both teams take care of the basketball and Purdue has the hot player, but the Vols are slightly more complete and they know how to get to the FT line. I’m seeing the Vols as a 1.5 to 2 point favorite and -120 on ML at most sports books and I am riding Rocky Top to the Elite 8.
Pick – Tennessee ML