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Tennessee Volunteers v. Long Beach State 49ers, a work in progress

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This preview of the Vols' first round game in the NCAA Tournament is intended to be a group project. Corn from a Jar and I have both contributed to the post below, and we hope that y'all will add to it or correct any mistakes in the comment section.

So the Tennessee Volunteer basketball team is headed to the Big Dance as a No. 5 seed in the South Region. The first game for coach Hulk and the Pantheon will be Friday, March 16 at approximately 2:45 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio against the Long Beach State 49ers.

We have to admit that we didn't know this team existed until its name popped up opposite Tennessee's in the bracket, so let's first take a quick look at how their season stats stack up next to ours:

Season Stats
 
Tennessee
Long Beach State
Record -- overall 22-10 24-7
Record -- home 16-0 12-1
Record -- away 3-7 9-5
Field Goals 886-2000 (44.3%) 874-1929 (45.3%)
3-Point FGs 286-812 (35.2%) 261-707 (36.9%)
Free Throws 491-751 (65.4%) 480-684 (70.2%)
Rebounds 1138 (435 off, 703 def) (35.6 per game) 1143 (401 off, 742 def) (36.9 per game)
Turnovers 467 432
Assists 495 443
Blocks 103 88
Steals 314 235
Points 2549 (79.7 per game) 2489 (80.3 per game)

Hmm. Surprisingly similar, and 23-7 is a pretty good record. Heck, the Beach went 14-2 in their conference and secured their invite to March Madness by winning their championship game in convincing fashion (94-83 over Cal-Poly). That, of course, leads to the inevitable question of the quality of their competition. Pop quiz: Name one team, excluding Long Beach State, in the Big West Conference. Go on. Nothing? Me, neither. Here's the list:

  • Cal Poly
  • Cal State Fullerton
  • Cal State Northridge
  • Long Beach State
  • Pacific
  • UC-Irvine
  • California Riverside
  • UC-Santa Barbara

"Big" West seems a bit generous. But what about their entire season schedule?

CHAPMAN (Exhibition Game) W 95-61
BOX | STORY
Collegiate Basketball Experience Classic

Stanford, CA

vs. Air Force L, 68-69
STORY BOX
vs. San Jose State (ESPNU) W, 86-67
STORY BOX
CS BAKERSFIELD W 73-70
STORY BOX
at USC (FSN Prime Ticket) L, 61-70
STORY BOX
at UCLA L, 58-88
STORY BOX
at Temple L, 49-74
STORY BOX
at Maryland-Baltimore County

W, 57-53
STORY BOX

PEPPERDINE W, 95-90
STORY BOX
SACRAMENTO STATE W, 76-55
STORY BOX
at San Jose State W, 76-67
STORY BOX
at Loyola Marymount W, 66-65
STORY BOX
at UC Davis W, 89-75
STORY BOX
MANHATTAN COLLEGE W, 74-61
STORY BOX
*UC SANTA BARBARA W, 101-65
STORY BOX
*CAL POLY W, 77-70
STORY BOX
*at CS Northridge L, 83-90
STORY BOX
*CS FULLERTON (KVMD) W, 95-85
STORY BOX
*UC RIVERSIDE W, 99-65
STORY BOX
*at UC Irvine (KVMD) L, 84-88
STORY BOX
*CS NORTHRIDGE W, 79-72
STORY BOX
*PACIFIC (FSN Prime Ticket) W, 92-64
STORY BOX
*at Cal Poly W, 80-77
STORY BOX
*at UC Santa Barbara (FSN Prime Ticket) W, 68-67
STORY BOX
*at CS Fullerton W 94-84
STORY BOX
HAWAI'I L, 78-93
STORY BOX
*UC DAVIS (HOMECOMING) W, 102-77
STORY BOX
*at Pacific (ESPN2) W, 82-76
STORY BOX
*UC IRVINE (KVMD) W, 85-80
STORY BOX
*at UC Riverside W, 91-75
STORY BOX
vs. UC Irvine
Big West Tournament Semi-finals (ESPNU)
W, 77-63
STORY BOX
vs. Cal Poly
Big West Tournament Finals (ESPN2)
W, 94-83
STORY BOX

Hmm, again. Looks fairly weak. Independent verification? RPIs:

  • RPI: 71
  • Wins vs. RPI Top 50: 0
  • Wins vs. RPI Top 100: Try again
  • Wins vs. RPI Top 150?!?: Cal St.-Fullerton (twice), Cal Poly (three times)
  • Losses vs. RPI Top 100: Air Force, USC, UCLA, Hawaii
Still, you can never rely on this sort of data to predict the outcome of an NCAA game. This goes double for the Volunteers, who have a tendency to get bounced out no matter who they're playing. And Long Beach State's roster could present problems for the Vols. Here it is, with probable starters highlighted:
No.
Name
Pos.
Ht.
Wt.
Yr.
1
Kejuan Johnson
G
6-4
195
Sr.
2
Louis Darby
G
6-5
210
Sr.
4
Donovan Morris
G
6-3
194
Jr.
10
Arturas Lazdauskas
F
6-7
204
RFr.
11
Artis Gant
G
6-3
217
So.
14
Darnell Porter
G
6-3
170
Fr.
15
Sterling Byrd
F
6-6
215
Sr.
20
Kevin Houston
G
5-10
180
Sr.
21
Mark Dawson
C
6-9
220
Sr.
22
Tim Island
G
6-5
200
Fr.
24
Chris Peys
G
6-5
184
Fr.
32
Dominic Freeman
F
6-4
210
Sr.
33
Travon Free
F
6-7
250
Jr.
34
Lane Whitney
F
6-6
200
Fr.
44
Dominique Ricks
F
6-6
222
Sr.
50
Andrew Fleming
C
7-0
235
RFr.
55
Aaron Nixon
G
6-2
219
Sr.

Generally, the Vols have been hurt the most by teams with big, good players inside, but good guard play has also hurt Tennessee this season. Long Beach State is promoting Nixon and Johnson as "The West Coast's Best Backcourt." Nixon is averaging 18.6 points, 3.1 assists, and 4.9 rebounds per game. His three-point percentage (38.7%) is almost as good as his field goal percentage (40.9%). Johnson is averaging 15.3 points, 3.6 assists, and 4.1 rebounds per game. One early disconcerting fact: Johnson is 6'4" and may draw the task of defending Chris Lofton.

Time's up for now. More to follow on these guys and the other starters later.