Tennessee Volunteers (29-4) vs. American Eagles (21-11)
When: Friday, 12:15 p.m.
1. Mr. and Mrs. Smith. If the NCAA tourney was played 3-on-3 hoop-it-up style and each team could only field players that had the same name, Tennessee would be considered the greatest college team of all time. Despite some broadcast announcers this season repeatedly insisting that there is a fourth Smith named Jamar, there are in fact three players that share the surname of Smith that are in the starting lineup for the Vols. Ramar starts at point guard, and he is the one the Vols turn to when they need someone to get some dribble penetration in the lane. Tyler, who transferred from Iowa last season, gives Tennessee some much needed help in the post. He leads the team in rebounding and assists and is their third scoring threat. The final Smith is JaJuan. He is an above average defender, leading the team in steals, and when he is on, he can shoot the three ball as well as anyone in the country.
2. Somebody call up House, M.D. Every team has to overcome injuries throughout the year. Tennessee has been relatively injury-free this season, but they have had to deal with an unusual amount of illnesses. First is the case of J.P. Prince. Originally at Arizona, J.P. went to get his wisdom teeth out and ended up in an induced coma. This obviously affected him on the basketball court as well and led to his transfer to Tennessee. He is now back to full strength and is their best option coming off the bench. Next to succumb to the health crisis was Duke Crews. As if Tennessee wasn't already struggling in the post, Duke Crews was forced to sit out for two months due to a heart condition found in a routine physical exam. He was cleared medically at the beginning of conference play, and although it is obvious that he is not as conditioned as the rest of the team, he has been giving the Vols the extra post player they have been waiting for. Coinciding with Crews' return to the court, the team began passing around a nasty flu. That didn't stop JaJuan Smith from playing with a 100 degree temperature against LSU or the several other players who have had to fight through it in other games. Tennessee finally has the bugs worked out, and now Tennessee fans are hoping that they can make it the rest of the year disease free.
3. Want a D-I scholarship? Keep playing video games. The Vols also got some help in the post this season from freshman Brian Williams. Fresh off becoming one of Time's 100 most influential people in the world, Brian Williams has given Tennessee some clutch minutes off the bench. This is remarkable considering how he found his way to campus to play basketball. Three years ago, weighing in at 370+ pounds, his brother convinced him to get off the couch and start playing basketball. Before that time, he had never really played organized basketball other than the kind that requires a controller. In fact, he supposedly learned how to play the real life game of basketball from playing basketball video games. Today, he is more than 100 pounds lighter and is a scholarship player on a top 10 basketball team. And since I don't have it in me to write up these capsules without mentioning them ... Bruce Pearl and Chris Lofton. There, now I feel better. — Matthew Payne
1. Curse-Breakers. Have you ever played Mario Kart and, just when it looks like you're going to win, the computer defies physics and sends Wario out to give you some competition? And then, thanks to a freaking green shell, Wario ends up winning? That's pretty much the relationship between AU and Holy Cross the last few years, with Holy Cross coming into Washington and crushing any Eagle hopes of postseason glory. But not this year. Not the year we were in the top five three-point shooting teams in the country. Not the year All-Patriot Leaguer Garrison Carr set the league record for threes, mainly of the impossible variety. Not the year Brian Gilmore has risen to Eli Manning levels of clutchness. Not the year coach Jeff Jones devoured a human child, although he does that every year just to get himself pumped up.
2. A Proud Legacy. Sure, this may be AU's first time in the NCAA Tournament (eighty-one years, people. We're like the Jews in the desert times two, plus two, minus one). And the seats at Bender Arena are more likely to be half-empty then half-full. And no one in our backcourt is over six feet tall. And the girls at our D.C. school (most politically active in the nation, natch) are more likely to whore themselves out to David Vitter then any athlete (note to AU Women's Initiative: just kidding). (But not really.) But no matter. Our school had its place in basketball history secured long ago. We are the people who brought you Kermit Washington, also known as the guy who knocked the fuck out of Rudy Tomjonavich. You're welcome. We also gave you David Aldridge. We're sorry.
3. A School for You...Ladies. Remember those women I offended in my second point? Well there are plenty more where they come from, considering American has a Brian Wilson-esqe ratio of two girls for every boy. Of course, most AU ladies are busy getting ready to control the world via low-paying internships and positions as Legislative aides and body painting sessions (h/t to the Sports Bog). But that doesn't mean they're too busy to root for the Eagles. Don't stop believing. — David Grossman