It’s no secret around here that I’m a Tennessee homer, and heck yeah I’m glad and proud that the Fightin’ Pearls are in the Sweet 16 (NCAA Seeding Conspiracy be damned). But I’ll try my best to give you an impartial preview of, what most people agree, should be the most fascinating Sweet 16 matchup of this year’s tourney.
1. Matchup to watch: Tyler Smith v. Earl Clark. The Cardinals’ imposing 6-10 presence in the lane will make it difficult on Tyler’s slashing and back-picking inside game. In order for T-Smith to come close to his 14 ppg average, he’ll need plenty of help from Wayne Chism and Duke Crews to get open looks inside 15 feet, and avoiding the Cardinals’ patented post traps.
Clark (16 ppg – 20 boards in the tourney so far) is no slouch on the offensive end either, and will run Smith around the baseline, working his above-average interior passing game with Terrence Williams and David Padgett.
2. Derrick Caracter is the X-factor. For a guy who’s had quite the roller coaster career under Pitino, Caracter can make it all a memory by showing up against Tennessee. He spent last fall tearing it up (averaging over 22 minutes and 16 points a game) but hasn’t seen the floor much since (zero games with 20+ minutes in 2008) and notched only 15 total points in Louisville’s first two rounds (both blowouts).
3-5 after the jump.
3. Halftime adjustments will win or lose the game. You’ll be hard pressed to find someone who doubts the basketball coaching cred that these two guys bring to the game Thursday night. Ricky P has his national title and several Final Fours whereas Bruce Almighty (a national title in D-II) has resurrected a basketball program that had been mostly dormant for nearly 30 years. The Vols won their first SEC Title in 41 years, but have yet to make it past the Sweet 16 in school history. Regardless of how the first half goes, it will be the strategy and personnel decisions in the second that will win or lose the game.
Let us all now pray that the J.P. Prince/point-guard experiment is over. 3 turnovers in the final minute of regulation might not cost you against Butler, but try it against the Red Hot Pitino Clan, and you can say bye-bye to San Antonio.
4. “You gotta hit your damn free throws!!” This timeless gem, straight from TheGoldfishCowDad on Easter Sunday, remains true. The Vols are, eh.., inconsistent at best when it comes to the charity stripe. JuJuan hit some big ones in OT againts Butler, but the team shot a measley 65%, led by Ramar Smith’s tidy 0-3 effort.
On the other hand, Louisville isn’t any better, shooting 64% on the year, and a dazzling 5-15 showing against the Sooners Sunday night. So if it’s close at the end, and the assholes get so tight you couldn’t fit a greased beebee up there, they better make sure to get it in the hands of a shooter, because if not, the trend of Ugly Tournament Basketball will continue. And nobody likes Ugly Tournament Basketball, not even
Ugly Scary Baby.
5. This game needs to have Chris Lofton written all over it or the Vols are sunk. After being MIA for the first two rounds (save a big OT 3 Sunday) Lofton will have a favorable matchup–UofL loves a 2-3 zone–against a team willing to play as chaotic as his Tennessee squad. Count on Pearl to get C-Lo plenty of deep looks early on. The questions will be 1- Will he fire away with the same reckelss abandon and cold blood that notched him consecutive First Team All-SEC awards? Or 2- Will he subjugate himself to a role-player position and shy away from the on-floor leadership this team desperately needs?
Let’s hope the steely-eyed dagger-thrower from Mason County shows back up. You’ll remember this one, Lexington Catholic, circa 2003.
And this one, Winthrop.