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2019 NCAA Tournament Preview: No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers vs. No. 2 Tennessee Volunteers

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Can the Boilermakers head to their first Elite Eight since 2000?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-South Regional Practice Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

The second game of the Sweet Sixteen tips off from Louisville this evening as the Purdue Boilermakers square off against the Tennessee Volunteers with an Elite Eight berth on the line.

-No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers vs No. 2 Tennessee Volunteers

  • Time/TV: 7:29PM ET - TBS
  • KenPom Spread: Purdue (-1)

The Boilermakers reached their third consecutive Sweet Sixteen with an evisceration of the Villanova Wildcats behind 42 points from Carsen Edwards. Overall, the Boilermakers played their best game of the season and look to continue their run against a tough, physical Tennessee Volunteers team.

For Tennessee, their run to the Sweet Sixteen was a little more fraught. The Volunteers struggled to put away Colgate in the First Round, and then almost blew a 25-point lead against Iowa in the Second Round. Thanks to some overtime heroics by Grant Williams the Vols are looking for their second Elite Eight berth in program history.

Let’s take a look at some keys to tonight’s game.

-Rebounding

You could also interchange this with “physicality”. The Volunteers possess one of the best frontlines in all of college basketball in Williams and Admiral Schofield. Both teams will get after the boards and try to create multiple offensive opportunities. Tennessee ranks in the top-65 in all of college basketball in offensive rebounding.

Purdue is even better in that category.

This is Matt Painter’s best offensive rebounding team. It’s even better statistically than when Caleb Swanigan seemingly swallowed up every rebound for two years. Purdue is an impressive 18th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage. Combine this with the fact that Tennessee is surprisingly weak at 262nd in the country in defensive rebounding, and Purdue could create some more opportunities at the rim or on kick-outs. This leads to the second key of the game.

-Shooting

If Purdue or Tennessee is able to dominate the offensive glass, it will create open three-point shots for shooters spread out around the floor. Between both teams, there are eight players averaging over 35 percent shooting from three. This doesn’t even count Carsen Edwards who shoots 34 percent, but dropped 42 on 9-16 from three last game!

For both teams’ three-point defense, there are warning signs.

Purdue’s 138th in the country in three-point percentage defense, but that number has improved over the last month. According to T-Rank, over the last month, Purdue’s three-point percentage defense has risen to top-40 in the country. The Boilers are allowing teams to shoot 29.8 percent from three over that span. That number is 33.8 percent overall on the season.

For Tennessee, it actually has gotten worse.

The Vols are 207th overall in the country in three-point percentage defense. They allow teams to shoot nearly 35 percent from three. Since February 28th, that percentage is up to 37.4 percent, 259th in the country. Playing physical and making Purdue’s shooters uncomfortable tonight is a huge key for Tennessee. However, Tennessee tends to go overboard with the physical play, as they are 224th in the country in free throw rate defense. If the game is closely called, that could be trouble for the Vols.

-Transition Play

One area Tennessee will try to control is the pace of play. The Vols will want to speed things up and force Purdue into quick, ill-advised shots. Purdue, specifically Carsen Edwards, has struggled at times with that this year, and it leads to long rebound run outs by the other team. Both Purdue losses to Minnesota exposed this flaw for the Boilermakers.

Tennessee could be playing with fire though. Purdue is decent in breaking the press and doesn’t turn the ball over much. An effective counterpunch to any press is wide-open three’s and easy buckets. This hasn’t been like Purdue teams of old in struggling to press break. Purdue’s been able to counter that, so Tennessee better be careful. Their best bet is to control long rebounds and immediately push the ball down the floor. Amir Coffey was good at this against Purdue and he torched them in both games.

-Final Thoughts

This is one of the more intriguing Sweet Sixteen games of the tournament. Both teams are looking to achieve new heights not seen in years, and they played a great game last year in the Bahamas. Both teams are going to throw themselves at the glass and try to play physical defense. It will be interesting to see how the refs call this one because it will get physical.

If Purdue is able to hit outside shots, it stands a chance. The worry for the Boilermakers is not being able to control Williams or Schofield along with one of their shooters Lamonte Turner or Jordan Bone going off from three. Still, Tennessee has struggled all season with holding leads, and Purdue has only lost three games by double-figures this season.

Expect a close one tonight, but I think Tennessee just has a little more.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Tennessee