Our 25* NCAA-B Sweet 16 Underdog of the Year is on Florida Atlantic plus the points versus Tennessee at 9 pm et.
The Tennessee Volunteers lost two of their three games at the end of the regular season after losing their point guard, Zakai Zeigler, to a season-ending ACL tear in late February. The Volunteers were able to outlast a game Louisiana-Lafayette team in the first round of the NCAA tournament, 58-55, as a double-digit favorite. Tennessee then upset perhaps an overrated Duke team on Saturday, 65-52 was a 3-point underdog to advance to the Sweet 16. The Volunteers’ defense led the way as they forced 15 turnovers against the Blue Devils after forcing 14 turnovers against the Ragin’ Cajuns. It will be more difficult for head coach Rick Barnes’ team to generate more scoring opportunities from their defense against this Owls team that had only 16 combined turnovers in their first two games in this tournament. FAU led Conference USA by turning the ball over in 16.4% of their possessions. The Volunteers got a surprising shooting effort from Olivier Nkahmhova in the upset win against Duke as he scored 27 points on 10 of 13 shooting. The senior forward had not scored more than 11 points in his previous four games, and he made three of his four shots from 3-point land after making only 15 shots from 3-point range in the entire season. Another game like that should not be expected by the Tennessee faithful. This is a team averaging only 61.5 points per game in the tournament. Without Zeigler pushing the pace in transition, the Volunteers became a half-court offense that too often gets stagnant. Their slow pace does not help matters. This is still an outstanding defensive team, yet perhaps even those numbers were partly responsible due to less-than-reliable shooting from outside by their SEC competition. Tennessee led the nation with the lowest points per possession allowed from unguarded catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts, and that has little to do with clampdown defense. Both of the Volunteers' games in the NCAA tournament have finished under the number, yet they have covered the point spread just twice in their last seven games after playing two or more unders in a row. Tennessee has covered the point spread three times in their last eleven games against teams with a winning record, and they have covered the point spread in three of their last eight games played on a neutral court when the oddsmakers install them as a favorite or a pick ‘em.
Florida Atlantic will be a tough opponent for the Volunteers. The Owls bring a 33-3 record into this game with an impressive victory in the first round of the tournament against a Memphis team that upset Houston in the American Athletic Conference title game. FAU also beat a Florida squad that handed Tennessee a 13-point loss when Zeigler was healthy. The Owls reached the Sweet 16 with a 78-70 victory against Farleigh Dickinson. They have a nine-game winning streak with twelve wins in their last thirteen games. They rank in the top-33 in the nation in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They can fend off the Volunteers’ usual advantage in hitting the offensive glass. FAU ranks 44th in the nation by holding their opponents to rebounding 25.1% of their missed shots. The Owls play a four-out system on offense with five players averaging 7 or more points per game and four players making 39% or more of their 3-pointers. Head coach Dusty May has a legitimate big man to patrol the middle in 7’1 Vladislav Golden. Florida Atlantic ranks 41st in the nation by hitting 36.7% of their shots from 3-point range, yet they have only made 17 of their 59 shots from 3-point range in this tournament. If they improve on that 28.8% shooting percentage from 3-point range tonight, they have a great opportunity to pull the upset. The Owls have covered the point spread in six of their last nine games against opponents winning 60% to 80% of their games. Play Florida Atlantic plus the points.
Good luck - Team Del Genio.