In order to reach the Sweet Sixteen, Tennessee will need to stop a Cinderella story before it has a chance to get going.
The Volunteers will square off with the No. 11-seed Loyola Chicago Ramblers on Saturday, a team which beat No. 6-seed Miami (Fla.) on a last-second three pointer to advance to the Round of 32.
Though a double-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament, Loyola is no joke. The Ramblers are currently No. 40 in the KenPom rankings and boast a résumé which includes a road win over Florida and just five losses on the season.
Loyola uses a balanced offensive attack, with five players averaging double figures in points and six men shooting better than 39 percent from three-point range. The Ramblers rank in the top 15 in the country in both two-point and three-point field goal percentage.
The key to the game for Tennessee will be what the Vols are able to do on the offensive end of the floor. Tennessee’s defense will do what it has done all season, but the Ramblers also boast an elite defense—ranked 26th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. So Tennessee’s ability to fend off an upset will be determined by its offense, which had three men in double figures in the Vols’ first round win over Wright State.
Another area Tennessee needs to exploit will be rebounding. Miami out-rebounded Loyola by six, and Kyle Alexander, Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield will need to do that and more to limit the Ramblers to one shot on defense and give the Vols second chance opportunities on offense.
Loyola and Miami were very evenly matched, so whichever opponent the Vols got in the second round was going to be about the same. But the way in which Loyola was able to pull of its first round upset gives it quite a bit of momentum heading into Saturday. It will probably be a pro-Ramblers crowd, especially the longer they stay in the game. But Tennessee just needs to play the game it has played since November and the Vols have a good shot of getting to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2014.
Loyola definitely has enough firepower that Tennessee should be concerned and take it seriously. But if the Vols show up Saturday with the same focus and intensity they had on Thursday, they could be heading to Atlanta next weekend.