The NCAA Tournament selection committee rewarded the Tennessee Volunteers with a No. 3 seed in this season’s bracket, rewarding them for their 25-8 record and regular season co-championship of the SEC. The Volunteers have their sights set high after a run through the SEC Tournament last weekend. That run may have fallen just short, but Tennessee showcased their abilities against a surging Kentucky squad in a game that could have gone either way down the stretch.
Next up for the Volunteers? The Wright State Raiders.
Who is Wright State?
Located in Dayton, Ohio, Wright State in an independent university with over 17,000 students. It’s their first trip to the big dance since 2007. They’ve never won a game in the NCAA Tournament.
Wright State finished second in the Horizon League’s regular season. They beat Cleveland State in the Horizon League Tournament to clinch their spot in the tournament field.
The Raiders rank 133rd in the Basketball Power Index and 136th in Kenpom. They average 72 points per game, which ranks just 225th in college basketball. Their 65 points allowed per game ranks 27th in the country, which paints the rest of the picture about Wright State’s pace of play.
Wright State wants to get things working inside as they rank just 214th in three point percentage. That inside attack is led by freshman Loudon Love, who nearly averages a double-double per game. The 6-9, 275 pound Love shoots 53 percent from the field, but just 52 percent from the free throw stripe.
Grant Benzinger is the engine that makes this team go. The 6-3 senior averages 14.5 points per game and leads the team in three point attempts and percentage. Expect Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes to challenge his guards to step up and play him tight.
Mark Hughes and Cole Gentry join Benzinger in the backcourt. According to SBNation’s Mid-Major Madness, Hughes is a valuable piece for the Raiders.
Hughes ended the season just shy of being a double digit scorer, averaging 9.9 points per contest. But his ability to find open shooters and play lock-down defense makes him so valuable. Hughes leads the team in assists by a wide margin, totaling 101 on the year. He is also leads the team in steals and was named to the conference’s All-Defensive team.
How will Wright State try to pull off the upset? We’ll go back to Mid-Major Madness for that answer.
Wright State’s identity this season, as it has been many times before, is as a defensive-minded squad. The Raiders are ranked 53rd in defensive efficiency have the 27th best defense against two-point shots in the nation, according to KenPom. If they can keep the game low-scoring — especially in a match-up with a poor three point shooting team — Wright State could control the game with its defense.
The Raiders are going to have to have a very, very good offensive day in order to have a shot to pull the upset. The outside shots are going to have to fall for Benzinger. Loudon Love is going to have to out-rebound Grant Williams and Kyle Alexander. That top ranked defense is going to have to keep Admiral Schofield in check and off of the glass.
We’ve talked plenty about Wright State’s defense, but don’t sell Tennessee’s short. They rank 35th in the country in points allowed. Kenpom ranks the Vols 5th in defensive efficiency. That’s not going to mesh well with one of the nation’s bottom tier offenses.
Tennessee is fully capable of having a bad day, but more often than not we see Williams or Schofield figure it out offensively. With guards like Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bone, along with a suddenly hot shooting James Daniel, Tennessee is likely just going to produce too many points for Wright State to hang.
The gameplan for Barnes seems obvious — go right at Loudon Love down low and make him stop you at the rim. Forcing him to give some early fouls could tip the scales in Tennessee’s favor quickly.
Tennessee’s offensive dry spells are slightly worrisome here, considering Wright State’s defensive abilities. But I think Admiral Schofield is going to be a problem that the Raiders won’t have an answer for. Throw in the fact that Tennessee’s guards are playing perhaps some of their best ball of the year and I think you’ve got a comfortable Volunteer win.
Tennessee 70, Wright State 54.