All eyes will undoubtedly be on the Sweet 16 Thursday night, when eight teams – including the Tennessee Volunteers – will be trying to get one win away from the Final Four.
Here’s a quick test for readers to see which team they think is more likely to advance Thursday:
Team A has over 30 wins, played in a powerhouse conference and has trailed for a grand total of 69 seconds in its first two tournament games.
Team B needed two late 3-pointers to hold off an upset bid against a No. 15 seed and nearly squandered a 25-point lead against a No. 10 seed.
It has to be Team A right? That’s the Tennessee Volunteers. The problem is Team B is also the Vols.
No NCAA team still alive in the field has been more of a Jekyll and Hyde than the Vols. In the first half against Colgate and Iowa, Tennessee looked every bit the Final Four contender most pegged it to be when it held the No. 1 ranking for a month.
In the second half of each of those games, the Vols could’ve easily been ousted in historic fashion. When Admiral Schofield hit two 3-pointers to eliminate Colgate, Tennessee avoided being just the ninth No. 2 seed to fall in the first round.
Worse yet, had the Vols blown a 25-point lead against Iowa Sunday, it would’ve been the biggest comeback in NCAA tournament history.
So which team shows up against Purdue, which comes into the Sweet 16 having blown out Villanova 87-61 behind a tournament-best 42 points from Carsen Edwards. Will the Vols be the world-beaters they looked like while demolishing the Hawkeyes in the first half Sunday, or the group which has been alarmingly close to becoming a historical footnote in back-to-back games?
Edwards was a monster while eliminating the defending champs, hitting nine 3-pointers. He’s exactly the kind of player who has given the Vols fits in the last two weeks, in the same mold as Colgate guard Jordan Burns (32 points, eight 3s) and Auburn’s Bryce Brown (19 points, five 3s).
It will be vital Jordan Bone and Lamonte Turner (let’s not even bring up his block that was called a foul Sunday) try to contain Edwards.
If the Vols keep it close, they’ll have one advantage: Grant Williams is a skilled closer. The two-time SEC player of the year dismantled Iowa in overtime, much like when he scored eight straight late in the comeback over Kentucky.
It’s maddening to try to predict what will happen with Tennessee anymore, but why not just take a leap of faith.
Vols 78, Purdue 71.