Tennessee vs. Purdue: A preview and prediction

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The Vols survived a round of 32 thriller against the Iowa Hawkeyes and now, the Big Orange needs to wipe the slate clean and get ready for the Purdue Boilermakers, who throttled Villanova in the second round of the tourney. These two squads will square off on Thursday at 7:29 p.m. ET on TBS, so let’s dissect the ins and outs of this contest.

The Boilermakers are, without a doubt, in the upper echelon of the Big Ten conference. They boast an overall record of 25-9 and 16-4 in league play, and they tied Michigan State for the Big Ten regular season title.

Purdue is spearheaded by superstar guard Carsen Edwards. He is logging an impressive 35 minutes played per game during which he is posting 23.6 points per contest. Although, when It comes to scoring averages, after Edwards there is a major dip. In fact, there is only one other guy who averages double-digit points every game. Guard Ryan Cline averages 11.7 points per game

Edwards is a volume shooter who is averaging right at 39-percent from long range (38.9 to be exact) and he is also incredibly dependable from the charity stripe, knocking down 85.2 percent of his free throw attempts. The aforementioned Cline can stroke it from deep as well, hitting 40.6-percent of his shots from downtown.

Another big element in the game will be size and the Boilermakers certainly have some length and beef down on the block. Big man Matt Haarms is a force to be reckoned with. He is an imposing 7-foot-3, 250 pounds. He is an efficient scorer whose field goal average hovers around 63-percent. You have to figure a chunk of his field goals are dunks and layups, but nevertheless, he is efficient and effective. Haarms is a guy that can get you some timely baskets and it goes without saying that he rebounds the basketball at a high clip (5.4 per game).

Purdue can play up to 10 guys during the course of a game. They have 10 men on the roster with at least 300 minutes of court time but one big thing to look at with Purdue is the wear on the tires for Edwards and Cline. As mentioned, Edwards is on the hardwood 35 minutes per game, while Cline logging 33.8 minutes on average and those kind of numbers can be a heavy load to carry for any player.

I think this game will be a frenetic, back-and-forth chess match. The Vols’ role-playing crew will need to show out. Folks always talk about Admiral, Grant, and Jordan Bone, but I think the X-factor will be Lamonte Turner. I like what I have seen from him lately and he could be the catalyst for a victory on Thursday. His defense on Edwards will be key and if he’s connecting from behind the three-point-line, everything could change with how he performs.

Foul trouble could also come into play for both of these teams. Look for Purdue to feed Haarms and fellow post player Evan Boudreaux down on the block, with the goal being getting fouls called on guys like Grant Williams and Kyle Alexander. I also forsee Purdue employing a specific strategy on Grant Williams that aims to eliminate him from the game offensively. Purdue certainly has the length to bother Williams but doubling Grant comes at a price because of his passing abilities.

As I mentioned earlier, the game within the game will be Carsen Edwards against the guards of Tennessee. Look for UT to rotate guys on Edwards with the hope of slowing him down. He simply can’t be allowed to have another massive game like he did against Villanova when he dropped in 42 points and collected six rebounds. I think that Bone, Turner and Bowden will all get the opportunity to be assigned to guard Edwards and it will be a tall task.

This one will likely go down the wire, and the two teams should match each other basket for basket. In the end, I think Tennessee gets it done simply because they have the better, more balanced team. Purdue is definitely no slouch, but I just think in the end, the superior team will prevail.

Tennessee: 78

Purdue: 74