Fleser: Notes From The NCAA Tournament

  • Monday, April 1, 2024
  • Dan Fleser
Dan Fleser
Dan Fleser

After watching Tennessee wrestle literally and figuratively with Purdue’s Zach Edey and get pinned with an agonizing 72-66 loss on Sunday in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA basketball tournament, any opponent this side of Connecticut would have been preferable to the Boilermakers. And that could’ve been the Vols’ fate.

Had they not closed out the pre-NCAA portion of their schedule with losses to Kentucky and Mississippi State, the Vols likely would’ve been the fourth No. 1 tournament seed. In turn, they likely would’ve been placed in the West Region and put on the path SEC rival Alabama took to its first Final Four.

Tennessee, meanwhile, couldn’t see its way past the top-seed Boilermakers and their 7-foot-4 monolith, who scored 40 points and gathered 16 rebounds. The wait for UT’s first Final Four continues.

Here’s some other tournament thoughts from the weekend:

-I won’t review Edey’s play, other than to say he deserved more than one foul and got away with some 3-second violations.

Instead, I’ll call him out for an infraction in his post-game comments. After saying “name a program, I could name a coach that looked over me,” Edey mentioned Tennessee’s Rick Barnes specifically.

In the context of Edey’s comments, not to mention the day, singling out Barnes was uncalled for. Better to simply mention his coach, Matt Painter, for not overlooking him and thank Painter for the role he’s played in his development.

- Really happy for North Carolina State women’s basketball coach Wes Moore, whose team beat Texas on Sunday to advance to the Final Four. I got to know him very well when he was at Chattanooga. We’d talk before games against Tennessee and it always felt more like catching up with an old friend than conducting a former interview.

The Wolfpack reached the Elite Eight two years ago but lost in double overtime to Connecticut.

“You second-guess everything you did for the 50 minutes of that game,” he said. “And you look back and think: If I just would’ve done this, we’d have gone to the Final Four. And I didn’t know if I’d get another chance, you know? I know I’m fairly young, but, you know, it’s tough to get there. And so it’s just amazing. It really is.”

-While the Lady Vols season ended last week against Moore’s team, they got some good news regarding next season when guard Jewel Spear announced on social media that she will be returning.

Spear, a transfer from Wake Forest, was the team’s second-leading scorer, averaging 13.1 points per game. She led the team in 3-pointers with 69.

Going forward, the Lady Vols will need Spear to be more like the scorer she was during a five-game stretch before the NCAA tournament, when she averaged nearly 17 points per game and shot 46.7 percent on 3-pointers.           

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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since 1988. He is a 2022 inductee to the Tennessee Sportswriters Hall of Fame. He can be reached at danfleser3@gmail.com.

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