Tennessee Volunteers' Blueprint to Have a Deep Run in 2014 NCAA Tournament
Tennessee had to win some games at the end of the season and in the SEC tournament to make it in to the NCAA Tournament.
The Volunteers won six of their last seven matchups before losing to March Madness' overall No. 1 seed, Florida, in the conference semifinals.
Cuonzo Martin's squad is built on physical play and tough defense.
Though the Vols would probably rather not have to play their way into the Midwest Region, at least they have a chance to get things going in Dayton on Wednesday and start what could be a surprising run in the 2014 NCAA tournament.
This is what they would need to do.
Reproduce Their SEC Semifinal First Half
Tennessee came out ready to rock in their head-on collision with Florida on Saturday in the SEC semifinal. The Vols shot the ball well in the first 20 minutes and suffocated the Gators on the defensive end.
They were tireless and tough, tenacious and terrific. This was their best half of basketball this season.
To just about everyone's surprise, Cuonzo's crew had Billy Donovan's squad down by seven points at the midpoint.
If they could bring that kind of intensity and that type of production against Iowa and all of their opponents from that time forward, they would be in every game against any team in the tournament.
Do Everything Possible to Set Up McRae and Stokes
They are the ideal counterparts for each other.
McRae is a versatile perimeter player who can fill it up and hand it out. At 6'6", he is the Vols' leading scorer (18.6 PPG) and leading playmaker (2.5 APG).
Stokes is a beast under the basket and a double-double machine. Even though he weighs in at 260 pounds, he is able to create his own shots in the post and off the dribble.
Creating as many offensive opportunities for these two excellent players will help the Vols take care of business from the first game on.
Allowing them to carry even larger roles than they have this season will give Tennessee the best chance of getting going and moving on.
Eliminate Mental Mistakes and Emotional Melt Downs
The Vols were playing Florida toe-to-toe in Saturday's semifinal game.
Even though they had given up their halftime lead, the Vols were still hanging tough and battling like champions.
Then, senior forward Jeronne Maymon was called for his fourth foul with less than five minutes to play and the game tied at 45. Afterwards, he disputed the call and was given a technical foul, which counted for his fifth foul, removing him from the rest of the game.
Florida hit four free throws, and the game was never tied again.
What seemed like a contest that would be fought until the final buzzer unraveled for the Vols from that point forward. The game was physical and emotions ran high.
But Maymon's unfortunate response was a critical turning point in the outcome of the game.
Maymon and the entire Tennessee team need to play with passion and aggressiveness from the first minute of their game against Iowa if they are going to make it out of Dayton and into the Midwest Region.
But they cannot let their emotions keep them from playing smart basketball.
Crash the Offensive Glass Even Harder
Tennessee is already one of the top offensive rebounding teams in the country. The Vols grab 38.9 percent of their missed shots, which puts them at No. 4 in the nation. Their 12.2 ORPG give them a lot of second chance opportunities and put-back possibilities.
As hard as they normally hit the offensive glass, they should pull out all the stops and make it their goal to relentlessly attack the boards from the opening tip to the final buzzer.
With Stokes, Maymon and McRae on the court, Tennessee's March Madness opponents should be exhausted at the end of the upcoming games because of having to work so hard to block the Vols out.
Tennessee is a blue-collar team that is as tough and physical as anyone else in the 2014 NCAA tournament.
The Vols need to fight hard, play hard and play smart as they open up in the Round 1 play-in game against Iowa in Dayton on Wednesday. Coming from the Big Ten, Iowa is used to being banged around for 40 minutes.
Tennessee will need to keep the Hawkeyes from getting rolling offensively since they score 82 points per game (No. 10 in the nation).
But Iowa has lost six of their last seven games and did not look good when it lost to Northwestern in the Big Ten tournament.
The Vols should advance into the second round, playing a quality UMass team that has nonconference wins against New Mexico, Nebraska and BYU—all March Madness teams.
If Tennessee brings their best against the Minutemen, they can get to the round of 32.
If not, they easily could be heading back to Knoxville before the weekend.
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