Vols Give Orlando an SEC Lift into Its Brackets

Ken Cross

March 16, 2023 at 6:23 pm.

ORLANDO, Fla. – The Tennessee Volunteers are a nice SEC entrant in the Orlando Regional, but … what happened to a second SEC team in the opposite region?

I had speculated the Orlando participants to be two SEC challengers and potentially the dominant Houston Cougars with the Miami Hurricanes, which won the ACC regular season title.

It quizzically never happened and it shows why I never have any impact when making sports predictions.

Duke and Virginia, two ACC teams who are usually located by the NCAA with home floor advantages in North Carolina (Greensboro for this postseason), were sent into the home of the Orlando Magic.

They were replaced by the Kentucky-Providence and Kansas State matchups with Pitt, the play-in game winner over Mississippi State, challenging Iowa State and Xavier-Kennesaw State.


Volunteers Blue Devils Face Solid Opening Matchups

Nevertheless, the Volunteers, a 4-seed, are a deep team with a huge opportunity, even with point guard Zakai Ziegler out for the season with an ACL injury sustained two weeks ago.

It’s depth and defense for Coach Rick Barnes’ team as Tennessee holds opponents to 36.9 percent from the field (2nd/CBB) and just 58 ppg (3rd/CBB). The Volunteers have had 10 players average productive double figures in minutes which makes them a team that is still potentially a solid move in March Madness

Santiago Vescovi and Tyreke Key will look for their three-ball, as Vescovi is the Vols’ leading scorer with Olivier Nkamhoua and Josiah Jordan-James both averaging double figures.

In the opposite bracket of the East region, Duke (a 5-seed) matches up with 12-seed Oral Roberts and it feels like the entire TV-media rush is looking for the Blue Devils to move forward again into a Final Four and maybe a national title.

Duke won the ACC Tournament as it was able to get past Miami in the semifinals when Hurricanes big man Norchad Omeir went down early with an injury. Duke never pulled away, though, and took an 85-78 win.

Kyle Filipowski comes into the matchup as Duke’s leading scorer at 15.9 per game, but guard Jeremy Roach is a bigger problem with his 13.3 ppg, plus his shooting combined with plays off the dribble.

On the flip side, Oral Roberts was in the Sweet 16 two seasons ago when guard Max Abmas led the Golden Eagles to wins over Ohio State and Florida.

Abmas is still at ORU and has had a solid senior season with 22.4 points per game while pacing the Golden Eagles to an 18-0 ledger and a Summit League Championship.

He has a solid backcourt mate in Isaac McBride, while big man Connor Vanover is a transfer from Arkansas, who shoots 52.4 percent from the floor in averaging 12.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per outing.

Oral Roberts is known for its offensive flow, but could be a huge defensive issue for the Blue Devils as ORU allows its opponents to shoot just 41.4 percent from the field, 47th out of the 363 D-1 participants.


Solid Matchups Inhabit South Region

The opposite bracket casts a pair of defensive stalwarts against teams known for their offensive entities as (4) Virginia battles (13) Furman and (5) San Diego State matches up with (12) Charleston.

The Cavaliers have been noted as a huge defensive entity that has a hard time on offense, especially when they have to attack and be persistent within that scheme.

Virginia allows its opponents to shoot only 41.5 percent (53rd/CBB) from the floor while scoring only 60.3 points per outing (6th/CBB).

Reece Beekman is a solid defender who will likely be assigned to cover Furman’s Mike Bothwell (18.0 ppg) throughout the game.

The big key for the Paladins is that Bothwell and Jalen Slawson (15.7 ppg) are both totally capable of going off on any defense for intensive scoring as they are coach Bob Richey’s top two scorers.

Slawson shoots 55.6 percent from the field and 39.4 percent from beyond the three-point line, while Bothwell nets 52 percent from the floor.

The Paladins won the Southern Conference with their 27-7 record and they haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1980.

San Diego State has developed into a solid defensive program as coach Brian Dutcher took over the team after Steve Fisher retired and has pushed them forward once again with a Mountain West win in the regular season and the tournament championship.

The Aztecs only allow opponents to shoot 41.6 percent from the field (58th/CBB) and 63.6 ppg (29th/CBB).

Dutcher’s squad is tough on the perimeter on both ends of the floor with Darrion Trammel and Lamont Butler, who are the second and third leading scorers.

Matt Bradley is key on the interior as he averages 12.9 points per game and is the only double-figures scorer. That matters little as this team shares the basketball with the next seven scorers averaging from 9.5 to 6.2 points per game.

Matching up with San Diego State is the 31-3 Charleston Cougars who are coached impeccably well by Pat Kelsey, who worked with Skip Prosser and Dino Gaudio at Wake Forest before his initial head coaching job at Winthrop.

The Cougars are like Furman in that they are also an exciting team to watch in being able to get up and down the floor in transition and pull the trigger on the three with consistency. Charleston averages 80.8 points (14th CBB) as Dalton Bolon leads five Cougars in double figures with 12.3 points per game.

This is a team that finds its threes as it puts up 30.2 distance shots per game and Reyne Smith and Ryan Larson join Bolton as the three top shooters on the perimeter.

Watch this game on the backboards as Charleston averages 40.5 rebounds per game (4th/CBB), while the Aztecs allow only 31.3 (33rd/CBB).