Boilermakers, Volunteers meet for the second straight season, this time for a spot in the Elite Eight
Purdue vs. Tennessee is not just one of the few Sweet 16 matchups that I correctly picked in my bracket this year. It also one could set the tone for the remainder of the NCAA Tournament.
Both the Boilermakers (25-9) and Volunteers (31-5) have more than held their own in one of the more competitive Tournament fields in recent memory. Purdue made short work of Old Dominion in the first round, then the Big Ten regular-season champs put the hammer down on defending national champion Villanova in the second round, beating the Wildcats by 26 points.
Tennessee, on the other hand, had to surge past a pesky Colgate team in the first round, then needed overtime to put away the Iowa Hawkeyes and not end up on the wrong end of a historic comeback. The Volunteers led by 25 with a little more than four minutes remaining in the first half and were up by 21 at halftime before Iowa stormed back. But Tennessee did what teams are supposed to do — survive and advance.
So now the question is can Purdue continue its Tournament domination, or will Tennessee find a way to outshoot and outscore another tough opponent? After facing Iowa, the Volunteers have an idea of what to expect against another Big Ten squad. This is UT's first Sweet 16 appearance since 2014 and they don't want to waste it. This is the third straight Sweet 16 berth for the Boilermakers but they haven't been able to make it past this round. These two teams faced each other last season in late November, a game the Volunteers won in overtime (78-75) on the road.
South Region: No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers (25-9) vs. No. 2 Tennessee Volunteers (31-5)
Time: 7:29 p.m. ET (Thursday)
Where: KFC Yum! Center (Louisville, Ky.)
Keys for Purdue
Put the ball in the hands of guard Carsen Edwards. After scoring 26 points in the first round win over Old Dominion, he exploded for 42 in the blowout of defending national champion Villanova. Edwards clearly is the engine that makes the Boilermakers hum, and when you mix in fellow guard Ryan Cline (12 points, 4 assists vs. Wildcats) and center Matt Haarms (18 points, 9 rebounds), the Boilermakers have a solid leading trio. But everything starts and ends with Edwards and the Boilermakers need to let him get his looks against a Tennessee team that's allowed at least 75 points in each of their last six games.
Keys for Tennessee
The team ball concept has served the Volunteers well in this year's Tournament. Guards Jordan Bone, Lamonte Turner, and Admiral Schofield have each been in double figures in both games, while forwards Grant Williams and Kyle Alexander have been the main source of defense (30 rebounds, 6 blocked shots, 4 steals combined). If they stick to this concept, and put extra emphasis on slowing down Edwards, the Volunteers just might pull out a third straight Tournament win.
This will be another exciting game that will come down to the wire. But in the end, Purdue wins a close one as Edwards can score at will and he's been nearly unstoppable. Plus, the amount of points that Tennesee has given up is concerning. But this game will be tight and Tennessee will give Purdue it's biggest Tournament test. I wouldn't be surprised if it takes overtime to decide this one.
Prediction: Purdue 71, Tennessee 70
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.