The Tennessee Volunteers caught Purdue “Wildcat-watching” and bounced the #18 Boilermakers to open up the Battle for Atlantis tournament on Wednesday afternoon. The Vols prevailed 78-75 in OT, after draining a trey with 5 seconds left in regulation to tie the game, to set up a Thanksgiving matinee against the #5 Villanova Wildcats.
Stones Turner sends the Vols to OT against Purdue. pic.twitter.com/YBlzfSCjZC— Houston Kress (@VolRumorMill) November 22, 2017
The end of the game was not without controversy, with the refs missing an obvious travel by the Vols that should have given Purdue the ball with a slim chance to tie the game.
Tennessee got away with an obvious travel to beat Purdue in the Battle 4 Atlantis https://t.co/vInBxkSYiU— SB Nation CBB (@SBNationCBB) November 22, 2017
Regardless, Tennessee will face Villanova tomorrow for a chance to play in Friday’s final. The teams last met in 2010 with the Volunteers defeating the ‘Cats 78-68 in the Pre-Season NIT. Tennessee enters Thursday’s contest 3-0 while Villanova rose to 4-0 after defeating Western Kentucky on Wednesday afternoon.
Barnes is Back
In 2015, after being bounced by Butler in the Round of 64, head coach Rick Barnes was let go by the University of Texas despite taking the Longhorns to the NCAA Tournament in 16 of his 17 seasons, punctuated by 14 straight and a Final Four appearance in 2003. He was promptly scooped up by a Tennessee Volunteers program still reeling from the Bruce Pearl investigation.
Barnes’ first two seasons in Knoxville were challenging with the team going 15-19 and 16-16 and missing out on any meaningful postseason play. However, 2017 is off to a great start for the Vols, coming off a big time upset of #18 Purdue. In Wednesday’s win, Barnes noted that his team “really showed the toughness that we've been looking for from them, to play for 45 minutes...our guys just kept finding ways to fight back." Sound familiar?
Rocky vs. Rocky Top
Villanova is a team that has always prided itself on its toughness, especially when clearly outsized by their opponent. As Villanova knows, few teams grow ‘em like Purdue. Wildcat fans got to know one Isaac Haas, the 7’2 monster center for the Boilermakers, during last season’s thriller in West Lafayette. On Wednesday, the Vols found themselves similarly outsized but grabbed 20 offensive rebounds and 30 defensive rebounds. The Vols are a lot like Villanova in that they crash the boards from all angles, with 3 starters grabbing double-digit rebounds against Purdue.
Wildcat-watching Part II While Purdue may have been caught looking ahead to the Villanova Wildcats, ‘Nova will have to make sure they aren’t looking ahead to a highly anticipated match-up against the Arizona Wildcats . The consensus was that Villanova would likely be battling Purdue and the draw of a younger and smaller Tennessee team is a break for the ‘Cats. That being said, the Vols have already tasted blood this tournament and, as an athletic team with depth (Tennessee rotates 11 guys), they might be able to get out and run with Villanova for 40 minutes. After the slow start against WKU, we expect Villanova to come out sharper and more focused but, should they slip up, the Vols may be hanging around long enough to sneak away with the upset.
Edit: The Arizona Wildcats failed to get past the NC State Wolfpack (who loses to NC State, amirite?!) so my third point has been rendered moot. In its place, my new third Thing to Watch is “how much you drink” as you try to avoid NC State-related PTSD. Enjoy Villanova basketball responsibly and Happy Turkey Day!
The game tips off at 12:30 PM at the Imperial Arena, and the game will be broadcast on ESPN.