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TALE OF THE TAPE

Round Of 32 Matchup: #14 Mercer Vs. #11 Tennessee

Mercer headed into the tournament with the daunting task of having to face the always-tough Duke right out of the gate. It’s been almost 30 years since the Bears have been in the Big Dance, but they’re certainly a new darling favorite after shutting down Jabari Parker and the Blue Devils.

#14 Mercer
#11 Tennessee
(credit: Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
(credit: Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
(credit: Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
(credit: Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Coaching
Winner Mercer’s coach Bob Hoffman did what many saw as impossible and outcoached the legendary Coach K of Duke in the first round. He substituted a number of key players into the game right when they needed to be in there and kept the young, inexperienced players from the more-talented Duke guessing. Hoffman’s squad also kept Blue Devil’s star Jabari Parker under wraps, giving Mercer the edge. This team knows Hoffman and the comfort shows on the court.
Volunteers coach Cuonzo Martin led a formidable attack against a decent UMass team, but UMass was given a gracious seed into the tournament. Tennessee was well-primed to take them down right out of the gate, which the Volunteers did from the start. Martin has his hands full this time with a much hotter Mercer team.
Offense
The Bears have seven seniors playing together who know just about everything there is to know about one another on the court. That experience and that familiarity is what Duke lacked and it gave Mercer the edge—it solidified what they had hoped all along. Senior Jakob Gollon scored 20 against Duke and made all nine of his free throws, and senior Daniel Coursey went 7-12 for 17 points. It’s hard to slow down an offense that just flat outplayed Duke.
Winner The Volunteers had an incredible inside presence against UMass and shot for over 50 percent in the first half of their first-round match up. Tennessee found its grove late in the season, going 6-2 down the stretch and almost upsetting top-ranked Florida in the semifinals of the SEC tournament. Senior guard and leading scorer Jordan McRae shot for 18.6 in the regular season and helped shape the offense that stunned UMass in the first round. Forward Jarnell Stokes also adds the number two punch after McRae and did so with a double-double and 26 points against the Minutemen.
Defense
Winner Once again, playing together for nearly five years, some of these seniors for Mercer have just figured out how to do certain things. The Bears defense was absolutely dominant, shutting down National Freshman of the Year Jabari Parker and keeping the other Duke players from making up the effort after Parker had to sit for foul trouble. Apparently experience translates to effective defense for the Bears, as well.
The Vols defense made a tremendous effort against UMass, especially in the first half, but any team that can shut down Jabari Parker like Mercer did is going to pose more of a challenge. Tennessee only allowed 61.2 points per game by opponents in the regular season, so the talent to stop big teams is there, and they’ve only gotten stronger with their win over UMass.
Bench Depth
Winner Mercer’s starting lineup may not have turned heads at the start of the tournament, but as soon as they took down one of the nation’s top teams in Duke, you can bet people started talking. Seven total seniors for the Bears means they have more than enough players to go around when keeping up with some of the bigger, more-talented teams. Mercer can interchange their players and not lose a step in cohesiveness – a very important factor in their first-round win.
The team is clearly led by big time scorer Jordan McRae, who makes shots happen when little seems available, and is backed up solidly by fellow senior Jeronne Maymon. Add in the likes of Jarnell Stokes, who complimented the two nicely against UMass with a double-double, and you’ve got a great starting lineup, but Tennessee’s bench is shallow otherwise.

The Winner Is

(credit: Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Winner #14 Mercer
3 out of 4

Mercer showed the nation something that they’ve known for a couple of years: This year’s squad has something special. The Bears don’t have tournament experience, but they’ve got playing experience – experience together on the court – and that is going to outweigh any positives that can be demonstrated by the Volunteers… at least for one more game in the tourney, given they don’t implode after the hangover from taking down Duke.

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