GAME NOTES: The 75th annual National Invitation Tournament gets underway tonight with one of the many matchups pitting the Savannah State Tigers against the Tennessee Volunteers at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville.
Winners of the regular-season title in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with a record of 14-2, the Tigers are an eight seed in this year's event as they make their first-ever appearance in the postseason NIT. As the top seed in the 41st annual MEAC Tournament, Savannah State earned a bye through the opening round of the event and they matched up against eighth-seeded Hampton on March 7, a meeting with turned into a 59-46 upset victory for the Pirates. The setback was just the second since Jan. 4 for Savannah State, but it was enough to knock the Tigers off their pedestal.
As for the Volunteers, one of the four top seeds in this year's tourney, their journey through the 53rd annual SEC Tournament came to a screeching halt after just 45 minutes of play as they bowed to Ole Miss in the quarterfinals by a score of 77-72 in overtime last Friday. Tennessee won eight of the last nine games heading into the conference tournament, earning the squad the second seed, but clearly it didn't help the program to have a first-round bye after finishing 10-6 in league action.
Tennessee is in the postseason NIT for the 12th time, the last time coming in 2004. The squad has finished third in the event twice, in both 1969 and 1985, leading the Vols to a record of 12-11 in the tourney overall.
The winner of this first-ever matchup between two these two goes up against the survivor of the Marshall/Middle Tennessee contest in the second round of the tournament.
Not much of an offensive team this year, the Tigers generated a modest 63.7 ppg over the course of 32 outings, although the squad did bump that number up to 67.6 ppg when it came to conference action. A starter in all but one of his appearances on the campaign, Rashad Hassan was responsible for 12.8 ppg and was one of the better rebounders for the group with five boards per outing. His 57.6 percent accuracy from the floor overall and astounding 62.3 percent effort in league contests should have given him even more of the spotlight, but the fact that he shot an awful 49.2 percent at the free-throw line in MEAC meetings took away some of that luster. Deric Rudolph (11.0 ppg) and Arnold Louis (9.6 ppg) were also solid contributors, the latter clearing close to eight boards a game to pace the group. The Tigers managed to limit the competition to just 58.9 ppg this year, but that too was overshadowed by the fact that the team as a whole made a mere 59.2 percent at the charity stripe.
With so many talented players in the SEC it is easy for some high quality performers to be lost in the shuffle. Tennessee managed to deliver a pair of all-conference performers in Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes who were named All-SEC Second Team and honorable mention, respectively. Maymon, one of only two players to have started all 32 games for the program, finished second on the Vols in scoring with 12.6 ppg and was first in rebounding with 8.1 rpg, his proximity to the basket also helping him to knock down 55.6 percent of his field goal attempts. Just ahead of Maymon on the scoring list was Trae Golden with his 13.7 ppg, stemming from his 38.6 percent effort beyond the arc and 84.9 percent accuracy at the free-throw line for a team that connected on just 70.6 percent at the stripe. In addition to his scoring, Golden was also the leader in assists with 145. Stokes (9.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg) appeared in just 15 games overall, but his impact was immediate, although he could stand a bit more practice at the free-throw line (.537).
These two teams are from vastly different worlds and that fact will become all too painful for the Tigers when they see what they are up against in one of the better squads from the SEC this season.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Tennessee 78, Savannah State 59
03/13 10:42:58 ET
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