After a solid showing in the SEC tournament without John Fulkerson, Tennessee is preparing for its first-round matchup in the NCAA Tournament with PAC 12 tournament champion Oregon State.
The 17-12 (10-10 PAC 12) Beavers finished the season as one of the hottest teams in the nation.Oregon State won its conference tournament championship to gain a berth to the NCAA Tournament.
The Beavers beat UCLA, Oregon and Colorado in route to their championship.
In its final three games, Oregon State shot over 40% from behind the three-point line and in one game it shot over 50%. Offensively, Oregon State shoots the ball well and can give Tennessee problems if they don’t lock them up on defense.
The Beavers averaged 70.7 points per game while shooting 43% from the field and 35% shooting from behind the three-point line.
“Oregon State is a well-coached team and they have a lot of sets they like to run, ” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said. “They shot the ball well in the conference tournament up their made three’s from seven per game to 10 or 11 in Las Vegas. They also have a very active inside game with strong post players.”
Oregon State struggles to rebound the ball, grabbing just 33.7 per game while letting opponents also average 33.4 rebounds.
Ethan Thompson and Jarrod Lucas lead the way for the Beavers offensively.
Thompson averages 15 points per game on 40% shooting from the field and 33% shooting from behind the three-point line. He also leads the team in assists with 112 in 29 games.
Lucas averages 12.9 points per game on 38% shooting from the field and 39% shooting from behind the three-point line.
Oregon State does a good job of protecting the basketball as it only averages 11.3 per game.
Tennessee will need to keep Warith Alatishe off the glass to find success against Oregon State.
Alatishe averages 8.5 rebounds per game and has 247 on the season. The next closest Beaver has 132 rebounds. Of Alatishe’s 247 rebounds, a team-high 97 have come on the offensive glass.
“They're a really hot team, really well-balanced team, ” Josiah Jordan James said. “They have role players and the guys know their roles and we have to key in on them.”
As a team, Oregon State also shoots a solid 75% from the free-throw line. Tennessee will have to stay out of foul trouble and keep the Beavers off the free-throw line.
“They shoot a very solid percentage from the free-throw line and I've told our guys we have to be careful not to put them there, ” Barnes said.
Defensively, Oregon State can stick with its opponents. The Beavers hold opponents to just 68 points per game. Opponents shoot just 43% from the field and 30% from behind the three-point line.
Tennessee will have to be wary of the Beavers' three-point defense as a team that already doesn’t shoot three-pointers particularly well. Creating open shots through off-the-ball movement will be crucial to success.
Oregon State struggles to turn its opponents as they average just 12 turnovers per game.
Tennessee will still need to take care of the ball and be confident in its passes but the on-ball pressure it has faced in the past few games will not be the same against Oregon State.
Like it has been the past few games in Fulkerson’s absence Tennessee will need Yves Pons to raise his take to another level.
He was able to do it in the SEC tournament where he averaged nine points, six rebounds and five blocks per game.
Pons will be the main post presence for Tennessee at least for the first few games, so his scoring might take a slight dip but expect him to put his extra energy into rebounding the basketball and patrolling around the rim for blocks.
Tennessee will also be reliant on the five-star trio of Jaden Springer, Keon Johnson and James.
Springer and Johnson have become the two most dynamic scorers on the roster and Tennessee will need them to be just that against Oregon State.
Springer is averaging 12.5 points on 47% shooting from the field and 44% shooting from behind the three-point line. He also averages 3.5 rebounds and has 70 assists on the season.
Johnson is averaging 11.2 points on 45% shooting from the field while grabbing 3.4 rebounds per game. He struggles from behind the three-point line shooting just 26%. For Johnson to be successful he’ll need to attack the basket and play through contact.
The final piece to success for Tennessee is the play of James. He’ll step into the power forward spot which will give Tennessee the flexibility to play small. James leads the team in rebounds by averaging 6.2 per game.
“I feel very comfortable at the 4 spot, we’re an effective team with that lineup and others, ” James said.
He’ll need to continue to be the fix-it glue guy that Tennessee can rely on to steady its play if things start to get off the rails.
Tennessee and Oregon State will tip off Friday at 4:30 p.m. ET on TNT from Bankers Life Fieldhouse.