Sweet 16 action in the South Region kicks off Thursday night with the 2 seed Tennessee Volunteers facing the 3 seed Purdue Boilermakers. Both schools are located just a few hours from the host city of Louisville, but it’s the Volunteers who are 1.5-point favorites over the Boilermakers.
It’s been anything but smooth sailing for the Volunteers in this tournament. Tennessee was pushed to the brink in the first round by 15 seed Colgate, as the Vols actually trailed in the second half before squeaking out a 7-point win. In the Round of 32, Tennessee appeared to be cruising at halftime but was outscored by 21 points in the second half before rallying in overtime to survive and advance against Iowa.
Things were a little easier for Purdue last weekend. The Boilermakers held a double-digit lead for most of their 61-48 win over Old Dominion in the first round. It was a similar story in the Round of 32, as the Boilermakers dominated reigning national champion Villanova, ultimately beating the Wildcats by 26 points.
Stealing the Show
Purdue was excellent defensively in both of their tournament games. They also saw a number of complementary players have big games. However, it was leading-scorer Carsen Edwards who stole the show. The junior scored 26 points against Old Dominion and followed it up with a 42-point outburst against Villanova. Edwards was 9 for 16 from the 3-point line in the Round of 32 win, perhaps signaling that he’s ready to put the Boilermakers on his back and carry them to another win or two.
Of course, the Purdue supporting cast isn’t bad either. Matt Haarms, a 7’3’’ center from the Netherlands, had a quiet 18 points and nine rebounds against Villanova, continuing his stellar play in the postseason. The Boilermakers also have another knockdown shooter in Ryan Cline, who shot better than 40% from the perimeter during the regular season and can make teams pay for giving Edwards too much attention, which seems likely after his performance against Villanova.
The Full 40
At times during their first two games, Tennessee has looked dominant and unstoppable. But they’ve also had extended periods where they’ve looked utterly lost, particularly on the defensive end. The Vols have been outscored in the second half of both games they’ve played. Specifically, they’ve struggled to defend the 3-point line, which could be problematic against Purdue.
At the same time, the Volunteers can match up well against any team in the country when they’re at their best. They get strong point guard play from Jordan Bone. They have a powerful inside scorer in Grant Williams. They have a prolific scorer on the wing in Admiral Schofield. Perhaps most importantly, the Vols have five players who average double figures and a roster that’s loaded with veterans. If they put together 40 good minutes, they typically end up on top.
In Hot Water
Tennessee may be favored in this game, but Purdue matches up well with them. Haarms gives the Boilermakers an interior defend to keep Williams under wraps. They also have dangerous shooters like Edwards and Cline who can trouble the Vols on the other end. In a slight upset, bet on Purdue +1.5 to beat Tennessee and advance to the Elite Eight.