Tennessee should take out Oklahoma State, but that's only because my thumb got tired from flipping the coin.
KenPom says there is just a 0.0002 difference between them (TN Pythag .8916 vs. .8914). He has to pick a winner so he rounds up and has Tennessee winning by a point. For the record, their pythag ratings are TN No. 32; OKSU No. 33.
The RPI's aren't that different either (TN No. 25; OKSU No. 31). Even their records are almost identical with TN 21-12 against the toughest schedule in the country and OKSU went 22-11 against the 11th best schedule in the country. Here's why they are so close.
Oklahoma State can flat out shoot. They are No. 5 in the nation for made-threes, hitting 38.4% of them. Their four-guard, high-tempo offense produced the sixth-best scoring average in the country (81.1 ppg). The Cowboys hope for a tightly-officiated game because four of their guards hitting over 76 percent from the stripe.
Oklahoma State has a limited inside presence, making offensive rebounding (No. 310) and defending the two (No. 208) more challenging.
Players to watch: Eaton creates 5.5 dimes a game while taking decent care of the ball with 1.6 A/TO. Eaton is their second-leading scorer as well, dropping in 14.1 ppg. Anderson is the team scoring leader and is a big guard. Harris and Muonelo both are double-figure guys as well.
OKSU is just 4-6 on the road. But it plays consistently well—with all of their losses to teams rated 52 or better by KenPom. If the Cowboys are hot, look out. It could be a long afternoon for the Vols.
Bruce Pearl says that Tennessee is "consistently inconsistent." Their performance against Alabama typifies the year.
In the last game of the season, with the SEC East locked up, they played without energy, didn't share the ball and let an improved Crimson Tide team hang around til the end. Bama won the game on an ESPN-highlight 25 footer at the buzzer (70-67).
Fast forward five days to the SEC tourney. The Vols had 20 assists, high tempo, and great defensive energy—holding Bama to 39 percent shooting. They won by 22, and it wasn't that close. Which TN team will show up? I don't know.
Tennessee is great at the two, rebounds well and plays much-improved defense. They are streaky from three and terrible from the free throw line.
Players to watch: Tyler Smith was first team all-SEC. He loads the stat sheet and recorded the first triple-double in Tennessee basketball history (2,400+ games).
Wayne Chism can score in the paint or from three and rebound, delivering double-doubles when he focuses. When JP Prince wants to do the little things, he can rebound, pass, deflect and score on drives with the best of them.
The most pivotal performances may well come from the role players. Can the PG Maze hit the occasional three, provide shutdown defense and run the offense effectively?
Scotty Hopson, a McDonald's All-American, is built for a slashing, high-intensity game. He could do well in a wide-open game against the Cowboys. Brian Williams outsizes OKSU. Can he dominate the boards?
It should be one of the better opening round match ups. Who will win? If the Vols are intense and share the ball, Tennessee should prevail. If the Cowboys are hot or if it's a foul-fest, Oklahoma State should advance.
Flip a coin (repeat) and then bet with your heart. In my case, Go Vols.
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