By Joel Silverberg / @JoelSilverberg
Tennessee takes on Purdue in the Sweet 16 on Thursday Night at the Yum! Center in Louisville. It’s just the eighth Sweet 16 appearance for the Vols in program history.
Fans likely remember Tennessee’s overtime win over the Boilermakers last year at the Battle 4 Atlantis punctuated by Lamonte Turner’s late three-pointer to send the game to the extra period.
As the Vols look for their second Elite Eight appearance ever, here are some observations heading into Thursday night’s 7:29 p.m. tipoff.
How are Tennessee and Purdue different since their meeting last season?
Not much has changed for the Volunteers from a personnel standpoint. Only six of the 78 points Tennessee scored in the Purdue game last year came from players no longer with the team. James Daniel III, who graduated, had a a pair of free throws in 13 minutes. Chris Darrington scored four points in 15 minutes and played this season at Toledo.
The biggest notable difference with Tennessee is where it finds its identity. Last year, per the KenPom Ratings, Tennessee ranked 36th in offensive efficiency and sixth on defense. This year those numbers have nearly flip-flopped. The Vols are third nationally in offensive efficiency and 33rd on defense.
Purdue is once again a top five team in offensive efficiency (second last year, fifth this season) and does fairly well for itself on defense (31st in defensive efficiency last year, 27th this year). However, the lineup has changed. Purdue only got four points from its bench last season against Tennessee. All five of Purdue’s starters had double figures, but four of them are gone.
Carsen Edwards is the only returning starter for Purdue this year. He led Matt Painter’s team with 21 points in last year’s Battle 4 Atlantis tilt, but went 5-17 from the floor and just 2-9 from long range. He’s coming off a 42-point performance in Purdue’s second round win over Villanova. He averages 23.6 points per game.
Purdue’s second-leading scorer Ryan Cline compliments Edwards in the backcourt. He averages 11.7 points and 3.4 assists per game, and saw 13 minutes of action in last year’s game against Tennessee. Matt Haarms, listed at 7’3”, 250 lbs., creates a big size advantage in the paint. He puts up 9.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2 blocks per game. He played 21 minutes and scored two points against the Vols. Guard Nojel Eastern and forward Grady Eifert have joined the starting five this year and combined for two points in ten minutes off the bench versus Tennessee last season.
What is Tennessee’s Sweet 16 history?
The Volunteers have been to this stage on seven other occasions, but have only advanced to the Elite Eight once. Tennessee beat Ohio State 76-73 in 2010 to advance to the Regional Finals for the first time in school history, but fell to Michigan State 70-69 two days later in its bid for the program’s first Final Four appearance.
There have been several other close calls in this game for the Big Orange. Tennessee’s first appearance in the Sweet 16 ended in a one-point loss to Dayton in 1967. The Vols fell to North Carolina by five in 2000. In 2007, the Vols blew a 17-point halftime lead against the Buckeyes before falling 85-84.
Most recently in 2014, Tennessee nearly erased a 15-point deficit with less than 11 minutes to play against Michigan. Jarnell Stokes was called for a charge with the Vols down by one and less than ten seconds to play and the Wolverines held on to beat Tennessee.
What else is at stake?
Purdue is playing in its third consecutive Sweet 16, but hasn’t been to the Elite Eight since 2000 and hasn’t seen the Final Four since 1980. The Boilermakers lost to Texas Tech last year after losing Isaac Haas to injury and were waxed by Kansas the year before.
Along with keeping its bid for a first ever trip to the Final Four alive, Tennessee would set a school record for wins in a season by beating Purdue on Thursday. The 2007-08 team also won 31 games, but fell to Louisville in the Sweet 16.
Purdue is a quality team and Edwards is as good of a shooter in college basketball this season, but there’s a reason this team suffered losses to the likes of Notre Dame and Minnesota (twice in ten days). Edwards can score at an elite level, but he can also shoot his team out of a game.
Tennessee is the more talented team and is still playing with a chip on its shoulder. Having four days to hit the reset button after a pair of close calls in the first weekend should help. The players were very celebratory after the second round win over Iowa, but Rick Barnes undoubtedly didn’t let his men rest on their laurels for long.
Tennessee 76, Purdue 72