Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics
Tennessee basketball is looking to advance to its second Elite Eight in program history Thursday night when it takes on Florida Atlantic.
The Owls have as few losses as any team in the country entering the game while Tennessee is coming off one of its best performances of the season.
Here’s the RTI game predictions for the Sweet 16 matchup at Madison Square Garden.
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The thing that I like about Tennessee right now is the confidence and the swagger that they are bringing to the table. The Vols are an experienced, gritty, veteran-led group, meaning they have every right to be confident despite tough spells with injuries throughout the season. This is a team that is coming off a beatdown of Duke in the second round. Can Tennessee use that swagger and confidence to beat Florida Atlantic? Let’s discuss.
The big talking point around Tennessee is the physicality that the Vols have. Well, I’m not going to stray away from that either. Like a good sloppy, greasy piece of New York style pizza (yes, I’ve had a slice from three different street corner vendors on Thursday alone so excuse me for forcing this comparison), I think the physicality of Tennessee’s game is the quality recipe for success here. Tennessee has the size advantage here and will benefit from dictating the pace of the game early on.
The Owls are certainly a good team, make no mistake about it. While FAU does have a disadvantage in terms of size, they have extremely athletic guards that can knock down shots from the outside. Tennessee will need solid perimeter defense in order to keep shooters like Johnell Davis and Nick Boyd at bay.
While I always say that anything can happen, I do see Tennessee winning this game. The Vols need two good scorers, and I think they’ll be able to find just that with talented big men able to use their size against FAU’s frontcourt.
Prediction: Tennessee 70, FAU 65
Tennessee is on the brink of program history as its looking to advance to the Elite Eight for the second time in program history. The good news is they’re facing a coach and program that isn’t any more familiar with this stage. Florida Atlantic isn’t a Cinderella story, winning 33 games this season and entering the matchup with a nine-game winning streak. However, Tennessee has more tournament experience and should be more ready for the moment.
Florida Atlantic isn’t going to back down and is confident entering the game. The Owls play a guard heavy lineup that has an abundance of players that are threats from deep. How the Vols defend the three-point line and how Florida Atlantic shoots is perhaps the biggest key in this game. With that great shooting does come small size. The Owls play only two people over 6-foot-4. Tennessee will have a size and physicality advantage inside.
Who dictates the style of play in this game? If Florida Atlantic’s speed gives Tennessee issues and they knock down shots then the Vols will have to adjust and play one of its smaller lineups. If Tennessee can lean on its size and dominate the glass and hang around defensively, then it’s hard to see the Vols falling.
Prediction: Tennessee 67, Florida Atlantic 60
Florida Atlantic presents a different kind of challenge than Duke did for Tennessee, but I think it’s one that is easier for the Vols.
FAU lives and dies by the three offensively, so the pressure will be on Tennessee to defend the perimeter well, but I trust Josiah-Jordan James and Jahmai Mashack. And given the elite interior defense Tennessee has displayed in the tournament so far, I could very easily see the Owls getting even more one-dimensional.
On the other end, this matchup sets up perfectly for Olivier Nkamhoua, who is coming off the game of his life. We haven’t seen Nkahmoua put together back-to-back big performances yet this season, but this is a great opportunity to do so. Even if Nkamhoua struggles, Tennessee should be able to find enough production out of others inside.
The one worry I have is FAU’s speed, but as long as Tennessee out-rebounds the Owls and finds good enough production from someone down low offensively, the Vols should take care of business in MSG.
Tennessee 64, Florida Atlantic 58