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2014 NCAA Tournament Preview: (6) Massachusetts vs. (11) Tennessee

2014 NCAA Tournament Preview: (6) Massachusetts vs. (11) Iowa/Tennessee

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Massachusetts Minutemen 24-8, 10-6

It’s been 15 long years since we’ve seen the Minutemen in the NCAA Tournament. They were able to earn their ninth ticket to the Big Dance thanks to two separate wins streaks of ten and six, a strength of schedule ranked 48th and a 7-4 record against teams in the RPI top 50. They played a tough preconference schedule and picked up quality wins against Nebraska, New Mexico, Providence and BYU. They have a potent offense that scored 76.4 points on average. Senior point guard Chaz Williams is their catalyst on that end. He may only be 5’9, but he makes up for what he lacks in height with his heart and motor. Williams never backs down and is constantly attacking, averaging 15.8 points, seven assists and 1.6 steals – all team highs. It’s going to be important for him to not look to do too much as he plays on the biggest stage of his career, though, as the Minutemen need him to be under control and efficient in order to survive and advance. Junior center Cady Lalanne mans the interior, providing a quality low post presence and 11.4 points, eight rebounds and 2.2 blocks a game. Defensively the Minutemen allow 70 points a game. They haven’t won a tournament game since their 1996 run to the Final Four, which of course no longer exists in the NCAA record books due to Marcus Camby’s eligibility violations. The Minutemen come in as losers of three of their last five; they’ll need to take better care of the basketball and hope to avoid quality three point shooting teams to makes this a successful return to the tourney.

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Tennessee Volunteers 21-12, 11-7

The two-year drought is officially over for the Volunteers, who are making their 20th appearance in the Big Dance all-time. This is the first time they’ve earned a ticket under head coach Cuonzo Martin, who will be making his NCAA Tournament coaching debut. His teams have only made it to the NIT and CIT previously. In Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes he has one of the best inside-outside combinations in the country. McRae averages a team high 18.7 ppg, while Stokes is a double-double machine who scores 14.8 points and grabs 10.4 rebounds a night. Jeronne Maymon is a nightly double-double threat as well, coming just shy of averaging one on the year like Stokes with 10.1 points and 8.2 rebounds a game. Martin relies heavily on his starting lineup, which is compromised solely of upperclassmen. They gave top ranked Florida a tough game in the SEC Tournament semifinals, but came up just shy of earning the statement win. They played the 25th most difficult schedule in the country and finished with the 40th ranked RPI. They went 3-7 against the RPI top 50, with three of those losses coming against Florida (67-41, 67-58 and 56-49). Their best win came against Virginia on December 30. The 61.8 points they allowed on average was the 18th best mark in the country. Thanks largely in part to Maymon and Stokes they outrebound their opponents by 8.8. They have the talent to advance past the opening weekend, but their road is going to be tough and they only have one win against a RPI top 50 team in 2014.

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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