Tennessee Volunteers vs. Creighton Bluejays Pick & Prediction MARCH 29th 2024

DETROIT — Tennessee and Creighton have made the NCAA Tournament a combined 51 times, but neither team has reached the magical Final Four.

A pair of victories in Detroit this weekend in the Midwest Region would change that narrative for one of the programs. They’ll meet in the Sweet 16 on Friday night.

Tennessee (26-8), the No. 2 seed, has one Elite Eight appearance on its resume, in 2010. The Volunteers reached the Sweet 16 last season, then got upset by Florida Atlantic 62-55.

The Vols had no trouble with No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s in this year’s first round, rolling to an 83-49 victory. Tennessee’s second-round opponent, No. 7 seed Texas, took it to the limit in Charlotte. The Volunteers needed four free throws from star Dalton Knecht to secure a 62-58 win.

“I’m just excited we’re moving on because a year ago we were a good team,’ Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “(Guard Zakai Zeigler) went down (last season), and we really had to re-create ourselves at the end of the year. We won games like this to get to the Sweet 16 a year ago. We struggled to score, but we won these kind of games. Actually, the older guys kept saying, we’ve been here before. We know what we’ve got to do.”

Tennessee’s usually stout defense enabled the team to advance. Texas shot 36.4 percent from the field and committed 17 turnovers. The Vols made only 33.8 percent of their shots, including a 3-for-25 performance on 3-point attempts.

Knecht anticipates the Vols will need similar defensive efforts to advance.

“It’s a grown man’s game,” he said. “Just be ready to go out and give the first hit and just keep learning in film with Coach Barnes and the rest of the coaching staff, as well as just going out there and competing with my teammates.”

No. 3 seed Creighton (25-9) had an even tougher time getting to Detroit after a 77-60 win over No. 14 seed Akron in the first round. The Bluejays were taken to double overtime by No. 11 seed Oregon before pulling out an 86-73 win in Pittsburgh.

“It’s a great feeling,” said guard Trey Alexander, who played all 50 minutes and scored 20 points vs. the Ducks. “I know I speak for everybody up here. We love this group of guys. We love rocking and rolling together. … We’re going to try to stay in the moment and just continue to love each other and continue to play at a level that we feel like we can play at. And from there we’ll just kind of let the dominoes fall where they do.”

The Bluejays came agonizingly close to reaching the Final Four last spring, falling in the Elite Eight to San Diego State, 57-56.

Creighton’s three top scorers — Baylor Scheierman, Alexander and Ryan Kalkbrenner — also were their top three offensive threats last season. They’ll take one more crack at ending the school’s Final Four drought.

“This is what they were shooting for is to get back and have another opportunity to try to get to another Elite Eight. And we put ourselves in that position,” coach Greg McDermott said. “They’ve been an absolute joy to coach. And what you saw going into that second overtime, them being loose and them having fun, they love the game. … Selfishly, I’m obviously excited that I get to coach them at least another week.”

–Dana Gauruder, Field Level Media

Docsports, The most trusted name in sports handicapping