Men’s Basketball: What to watch for in FAU’s Sweet 16 matchup with Tennessee

On Thursday, FAU will take on the Tennessee Volunteers in the Sweet 16. Here’s what to look out for:


Nicholas Windfelder

Brandon Weatherspoon catches the rebound and looks for an opening through UTSA to pass on Feb. 23, 2023.

Cameron Priester, Sports Editor

On Thursday, March 17, FAU men’s basketball (33-3, 18-2 C-USA) will continue their run through the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet 16 against the University of Tennessee Volunteers (25-10, 11-7 SEC).

The 4-seed Volunteers, who are listed 5-point favorites, are coming off of a 65-52 victory over the Duke University Blue Devils in the Round of 32.

To preview the matchup, which will take place at Madison Square Garden in New York City, the University Press interviewed Andrew Peters, Sports Editor for the The Daily Beacon, to get a look into the Owls next opponent. 

UP: What is Tennessee’s greatest strength and weakness?

Peters: The clear strength is defense. They’ve got the #1 defense in the country, on KenPom one of the best defenses ever. That’s the clear strength when you look at the team, and it’s not just numbers they back it up. They’ve only had five opponents score over 70 points, and it’s kind of what they leaned on all year. It’s what they leaned on when they beat #1 Alabama in February, and it’s what they leaned when they beat Duke on Saturday.

On the complete opposite side of that, their main weakness is kind of just the offense as a whole. They’ve obviously got really great offensive guys like Santiago Vescovi, Olivier Nkamhoua, Zakai Zeigler, but besides that, that’s all you’ve got. And now with Zeigler out for the season, that takes a toll on the offense. They get open shots and they can move the ball, they’ve kind of just failed to execute on the offensive end.

UP: Tennessee’s trademark all season has been their physicality, and it’s how they got past Duke on Saturday. How have teams been able to overcome that?

Peters: The main way a lot of team’s have been able to counteract Tennessee’s physicality is, one, with their own. If teams come out and play good defense that’s going to be enough to beat Tennessee, just because the offense does not play at an elite level that Alabama, Houston, or Kansas might play at. If teams can bring their own physicality, I think that they’ll get pretty good results against Tennessee.

On the offensive end, if you can come in and shoot the three really well, stay out of the paint and score on the wing and the three-point line, then you’re also going to see a lot of success. Once you get in the paint and start going up against Nkamhoua, Tobe Awaka, Jonas Aidoo, that’s when you’re going to get beat on the offensive end. 

UP: Senior guard Santiago Vescovi, Tennessee’s leading scorer, is a name that comes up a lot. What makes him so good, and so important to the team?

Peters: First is his three-point shooting. He was spotty to start the season, he hurt his shoulder early on. But for the most part he’s been a really consistent three-pointer shooter; he shoots in the high 30s (37%). He has really good range. One of the things head coach Rick Barnes worked on this offseason was expanding his players’ three-point shooting range, and I think Vescovi has thrived in that. He can take a three from five feet from behind the line no problem.

But I think what makes him so successful as a whole, is his ability to move without the ball. He never stops moving, he never takes a break. It wears defenders down over the course of a game, and that allows him to get past you for a bucket, get open for a three, whatever it might be. The key to stopping that is to be ready to run. If you’re not ready to run, you’re not going to be able to guard him.

UP: Tennessee is also one of the best rebounding teams in the country. What can FAU do to slow them down on the boards?

Peters: I think it goes back to being physical. You have got to be able to match Tennessee’s physicality if you want to beat them on the boards.

As great of a player as he is, Nkamhoua has had games this season where he’s had zero, or just one or two, rebounds. Those nights are the nights he’s being really challenged by physical defense, think back to Oscar Tshibwe of Kentucky. So, it kind of goes back to their physicality, and their ability to match that. If you’re not ready to match that, then you probably won’t succeed in beating Tennessee on the glass.

UP: If you had to call it right now, what do you think the game will come down to?

Peters: I don’t think Tennessee will run away with it. Like Rick Barnes said in his press conference on Monday, 33 wins speak for themselves no matter what conference you play in. 

I think that Tennessee should win the game. But when they played Louisiana in the first round, for a while it looked like they were going to have an early exit. When you’re playing in March, in a place like Madison Square Garden against a really good team anything can happen. 

It really depends on what Tennessee team shows up that night, because one of the themes of the team this year has been inconsistency. That’s why they lost five games in February, and it’s why they left the SEC Tournament early.

UP: Score prediction?

Peters: Tennessee 67, FAU 60

Cameron Priester is the Sports Editor for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @PriesterCameron