Tennessee is back in the NCAA Tournament, landing as a No. 5 seed in the Midwest Region. The Vols will face No. 12 seed Oregon State, the PAC 12 Tournament Champion in the first round.
Oregon State went 14-12 in the regular season and weren't even on the NCAA Tournament bubble entering the PAC 12 tournament. That didn't stop the Beavers from winning three straight games to win the tournament and clinch an NCAA Tournament bid.
“Oregon State finished as strong as any team in their conference,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said. “They beat Oregon, UCLA and Colorado — I think— in that order which that tells you how well they’ve been playing. A terrific team that’s been coached well. They’ve gotten better and you said it, they’re playing their best basketball at the right time.”
The Beavers are coached by Wayne Tinkle who has done a strong job of taking them back to competence after they had recorded a winning record just once in the nine years prior to him taking over.
Tinkle, now in his seventh season, has given the Beavers five winning seasons, one losing season and a .500 season. The Montana alum has now taken the Beavers to two NCAA Tournaments, something Oregon State hadn't done since 1990 before his arrival.
"I've got great respect for him," Barnes said of Tinkle. "When you're in coaching you know every job is hard. Some harder the others— absolutely. When he's done what he's done with that program and to do what he did in that tournament speaks volumes. It speaks volumes. ... Hats off to him because what he did this week is something very few teams do. When you run through the field the way he did, it's impressive."
Tennessee will face Oregon State on Friday at 4:30 p.m. ET. The game will take place at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and will be broadcasted on TNT.
If the Vols make it past Oregon State, they'll face the winner of No. 4 seed Oklahoma State and No. 13 seed Liberty.
Oklahoma State went 20-8 on the season with a run to the Big 12 Championship game including a win over one-seed Baylor.
The Cowboys were on ESPN's Joe Lundardi two-line on Saturday but ended up as a four after losing to Texas.
Oklahoma State is led by star freshman Cade Cunningham, 20.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, and is as hot as any team in the country, winning eight of its last 10 games including six wins over ranked opponents.
Liberty earned an invitation to the NCAA Tournament with a ASUN Tournament championship. The Flames went 23-5 on the season with wins over Mississippi State and South Carolina.
If Tennessee were to make the Sweet 16 they'd likely have No. 1 seed Illinois waiting for them. Though Loyola-Chicago and Georgia Tech are also possibilities as the winner is likely to play the Fighting Illini.
“I think we’re good enough to play anybody and beat anybody in the tournament,” Barnes said. “I really believe that. That’s the honest truth.”