|Tennessee opens tourney vs. red-hot Colgate|
No matter what lofty heights Tennessee attained this season -- and being ranked No. 1 for a month is as high as it gets -- it was always going to be judged on what it did in the NCAA Tournament.
So it's go time for the No. 6 Volunteers, who start their quest for a national championship Friday in Columbus, Ohio as the No. 2 seed in the South Region. Their first opponent is Patriot League Tournament champion Colgate, the 15th seed.
Tennessee (29-5) missed on a chance to earn a No. 1 seed by losing 84-64 Sunday to Auburn in the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game in Nashville. Nevertheless, the Volunteers are ready for the six games it will take to get them the one title they really desire.
"We have had a terrific season," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. "But we want more, and I think everyone that is in this tournament wants more. Whether that is how you are defined or not, it is what it is. You hope your players step up to it and can make the most of it."
With national Player of the Year candidate Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield and Jordan Bone fronting a deep, talented roster, the Vols have a nucleus that anyone outside of Durham or maybe Spokane would envy. Tennessee ranks in the top 20 in Division I in scoring (82.3 points per game), field-goal percentage (49.7), free-throw percentage (76.3) and assists (18.5).
Williams, who enters the tournament averaging 19 points and 7.6 rebounds per game while canning 56.5 percent of his field-goal tries, says the Volunteers have accomplished a lot even though they didn't win the regular season or conference tournament titles.
"Not many teams get 29 wins in a season," he said. "I think we've done a lot this year. I want to go all the way."
As for Tennessee's first opponent, the Raiders (24-10) enter on an 11-game winning streak. Once 5-5 in its league, Colgate won its final eight regular-season games, then swept through the league tournament, beating Bucknell 94-80 on March 13 to earn the automatic bid.
The Raiders feature 6-foot-10 forward Rapolas Ivanauskas (16.4 points, 7.9 rebounds) and 6-0 guard Jordan Burns (15.8 points, 5.8 assists). Ivanauskas earned Patriot League Player of the Year, while Burns pumped in a career-high 35 points in the victory over Bucknell.
"We've grown a lot since being 5-5 in league play," said Colgate coach Matt Langel. "This group has stuck together through adversity all year. They have the confidence and belief in one another that most teams in the NCAA Tournament have."
During their winning streak, the Raiders have averaged 11 3-point makes per game and outscored teams by an average of 11.5 points per game, converting 51.5 percent of their field-goal tries. They rank 15th in Division I in 3-point percentage at 38.8 percent.
Colgate has played just one NCAA Tournament team this season, losing 77-56 at Syracuse on Nov. 21.
The winner advances to a second-round clash Sunday against either seventh-seeded Cincinnati or 10th-seeded Iowa.
--Field Level Media