San Diego State vs Tennessee
The San Diego State Aztecs appear to have drawn the perfect first-round opponent in the inconsistent Tennessee Volunteers, as they go for their first ever NCAA Tournament victory.
The Aztecs earned their spot in the Big Dance by winning the Mountain West Conference tournament and are just 4-point underdogs here. In the process they posted back-to-back upset wins over New Mexico and UNLV in the semifinals and final. The Lobos and the Rebels are also seeded higher than the Aztecs in the Tournament as a 3-seed and an 8-seed, respectively.
Overall the Aztecs enter the Tournament having won nine of their last 10 games after a solid end to the regular season. The Aztecs have a stud forward in Kawhi Leonard who averages nearly a double-double with 12.8 points and 9.9 rebounds per game, but they actually spread the offense around and their balanced attack is hard to contain. >/p>
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Four of the Aztecs’ starters average double-digit points and like Leonard, Malcolm Thomas is also a beast on the boards, averaging 7.8 rebounds per game.
San Diego last appeared in the tournament in 2006 when they made an early exit after losing to Indiana in the first round. All of the Aztecs’ NCAA Tournament appearances have been short, as they have never won a game in the tourney and have always been knocked out in the first round. Despite missing the Big Dance last season the Aztecs did have some success in the NIT, making it to the semifinals before falling to Baylor.
Tennessee enters the tournament after an up-and-down season that saw them beat both Kansas and Kentucky, but also get blown out by the Wildcats in the SEC Tournament 74-45.
Before getting destroyed by Kentucky the Vols were on a solid run to end the season, and won seven of their last nine games. However, they were only 4-5 ATS in those games and enter their tournament opener against San Diego State as a 3-point favorite at Bovada.
Offensively this season the Volunteers were a very inconsistent bunch with their shooters tending to either shoot out the lights or lay bricks. Wayne Chism and Scotty Hopson each averaged 12.5 points per game and Chism was also strong on the glass, averaging 7.1 rebounds per game. Chism will need to continue his strong rebounding against San Diego State to keep the Volunteers from getting beaten badly on the glass.
The difference maker for Tennessee in the Tournament could be their guard play from J.P. Prince and Bobby Maze. Prince has been a big scoring option for Tennessee at times this season, but at other times he completely disappeared and the Vols’ offensive game has suffered because of it.
Whichever version of Prince shows up in the tournament could determine the Vols’ fate. Maze is the Vols’ best free-throw shooter and he is also a capable defender when his head is in the game.
This year marks the Volunteers’ fifth straight appearance in the Big Dance. Last year was one to forget, as they were bounced in the first round by a loss to Oklahoma State. The Vols’ best finishes during their run were berths in the Sweet 16 in 2007 and 2008. Another run is possible, but an early exit is also a possibility if the Vols don’t bring their best versus the Aztecs.