🏀 Are you ready for the Sweet 16?

The Tennessee-Creighton matchup

Hello. This is the Josh and Swain Newsletter, a quick roundup of the week’s top stories and topics involving Tennessee and the sports world.

Here’s what we have for you today:

  • What you need to know about Creighton before the Sweet 16

  • Why Tennessee will look for more help at running back

  • Standouts and questions from the Vols’ first spring scrimmage

  • Tennessee finds more success on the football recruiting trail

IT’S TOO LATE TO BE SCARED

Tennessee will play a sizable basketball game on Friday night.

No. 2 seed Tennessee will take on No. 3 seed Creighton in what looks like a very interesting matchup.

📍 Detroit
📅 Friday, March 29
10:09 p.m. ET (if we’re lucky…)
📺 TBS/truTV
📻 99.1 The Sports Animal/WIVK

You probably know the significance of this one by now.

◼️ Tennessee is seeking its second Elite Eight appearance in school history.
◼️ The Vols need two more wins for the school’s first ever Final Four appearance.
◼️ Tennessee is a real national title contender — but so are the Vols’ upcoming opponents.

So what should you know about Tennessee’s opponent before the game tips off tonight?

Here are a few things to know about the Creighton Bluejays.

1️⃣ Creighton doesn’t foul

That’s a slight exaggeration — of course they commit fouls — but they don’t foul often. 

Rick Barnes joined Josh and Swain on Tuesday and pointed to Creighton’s ability to avoid fouls on defense. 

The Bluejays rank No. 1 in the country in opposing teams’ free throw rate. 

Creighton does not have a deep bench — more on that in a moment — so the Bluejays avoid foul trouble to keep their starters on the floor.

That also means Creighton rarely forces turnovers.

The Bluejays rank last in the nation in defensive turnovers — which means Tennessee should take care of the ball.

2️⃣ Creighton shoots 3s… and 2s close to the basket

Don’t expect the Bluejays to pull up for many mid-range jumpers. 

Creighton likes to shoot the three-pointer: close to 50 percent of the team’s field goal attempts came from behind the three-point line this season. 

Barnes compared Creighton’s offensive approach to Alabama’s preference: threes and “easy” twos around the basket, if they can get them. 

3️⃣ Creighton has a Big Three

Creighton is led by guard Trey Alexander, wing Baylor Scheierman and center Ryan Kalkbrenner. 

Those three guys played 149 out of 150 possible minutes in Saturday’s double-overtime win over Oregon. 

Guard Steven Ashworth is another player to watch.

He plays more than 30 minutes a game and can shoot the ball.

Repeat from earlier: Creighton’s bench is not deep. 

Tennessee will try to force Creighton into foul trouble, of course. 

It just won’t be easy.

BUT if the Vols can attack Creighton and force some early fouls, that would create a big advantage for Tennessee.

Other questions and thoughts

➡️ How will Tennessee shoot?

The Vols shot horribly against Texas and have struggled offensively in their last five games against major conference opponents.

It’s a serious statement that Tennessee was able to beat Texas while shooting 12 percent from three.

History says that’s basically impossible in the NCAA tournament.

I wouldn’t try it again.

➡️ Will Dalton Knecht bounce back?

In Knecht’s last five games against major conference teams, Knecht has shot better than 40 percent once: against Kentucky, one of the worst defensive teams in the SEC.

Creighton will try to force Tennessee into taking tough mid-range shots.

But those shots aren’t as tough for Knecht thanks to his ability to rise and fire from anywhere on the floor.

Tennessee’s offense has dropped off in recent weeks.

Knecht can be the fix.

➡️ How Will Tennessee’s big men play?

Tobe Awaka was a force against Texas.

He also struggled with foul trouble and only played 11 minutes.

Tennessee will need Awaka and Jonas Aidoo to bring it against Creighton, which is led in the post by the 7-foot-1 Kalkbrenner.

John Gasaway from ESPN joined the show on Thursday after writing about the impact players of the Sweet 16.

His impact choice for Tennessee: Jonas Aidoo.

➡️ What is Santiago Vescovi’s status?

Tennessee’s senior guard didn’t practice Thursday due to an illness.

“He’s just under the weather a little bit,” Barnes said on Thursday, “but we expect him to be ready.”

Vescovi’s status will be worth monitoring as the day goes on Friday.

Want to learn more about Tennessee’s opponent as well as the Vols’ prep for the Sweet 16?

Check out our conversation with Rick Barnes below. ⬇️⬇️

TENNESSEE’S EVOLVING ROSTER

Cameron Seldon (23) begins the rehab process for 2024

The biggest news item from Tennessee’s spring practice this week came from the injury report. 

Running back Cameron Seldon will miss the rest of spring because of a shoulder injury. 

This news led to immediate questions about Tennessee’s depth at running back. 

Seldon’s injury leaves Tennessee with two healthy scholarship running backs: Dylan Sampson and rising sophomore Khalifa Keith. 

DeSean Bishop will receive more practice reps this spring and will have a chance to show what he can do after missing the 2023 season due to injury. 

But Tennessee’s staff will monitor the transfer portal after the spring to look for other options. 

Tennessee’s running backs are talented. 

Sampson has proven he can make plays. 

Seldon is a super athlete and true freshman Peyton Lewis, who’s unable to practice because of an offseason procedure, has speed that excites UT’s coaching staff. 

But Sampson is UT’s only proven running back — and he still has to show he can handle the workload of a starter for a full season. 

Jaylen Wright had a terrific season in 2023.

But would he have had the same production without the help from Sampson and Jabari Small?

That’s why Tennessee will keep an eye out for more help for Sampson. 

This spring has reminded Josh Heupel and new running backs coach De’Rail Sims that they might need it.

SPORTS NUGGETS

🏈 Here’s a look at 16 teams poised to make the College Football Playoff. See if you agree with the list.

🏈 Here’s a seven-round NFL mock draft that has three Tennessee Vols being selected. (ESPN+)

🏀 Great story by Mike Wilson on Mary-Carter Eggert, Tennessee basketball’s superwoman.

Here’s a look at Tennessee’s upcoming home series against Georgia. The Vols’ Sunday starting pitcher remains a question.

⚽ One Knox SC will return home to play on Saturday. We had a great time talking to defender James Thomas about the team’s 2-0 start and the growth of One Knox as a pro soccer team.

MORE SPRING FOOTBALL NOTES

We talked to Austin Price of Volquest following Tennessee’s scrimmage on Wednesday.

Here are several notes from our conversation (with a link to the full chat at the bottom of this section. 

🟠 Keenan Pili has stood out

The return of linebacker Keenan Pili, who missed all but one game in 2023 due to injury, is like Tennessee adding a new player to the defense.

And his presence was felt on Wednesday, according to Price.

Linebacker is another position with a lot of talent, but most of it’s unproven.

Rising sophomore Arion Carter is not practicing as he recovers from injury.

The same goes for Elijah Herring, who played a lot in 2023 due to Pili’s injury.

Kalib Perry, Jeremiah Telander, and Jalen Smith are other linebackers learning under new linebackers coach William Inge.

The presence of Pili is vital as his younger teammates continue to develop… and heal.

⚫ Wide receiver competition is for real 

The arrival of transfer Chris Brazzell II from Tulane and true freshmen Mike Matthews and Braylon Staley has increased the competition at receiver.

We receive daily questions on the show about the starting spots at receiver — and that makes sense with former UT receiver Jayson Swain on the show.

Matthews stood out at Wednesday’s scrimmage with a long touchdown catch.

“Mike made a big play down the sideline,” Heupel said after the scrimmage. “I thought he competed hard throughout the course of the day.”

There are reasons to be excited about all three newcomers at receiver — which should add to how hard the returning players work to keep their spots on the field.

🟠 Tight ends coming together

Tennessee probably feels better about its tight end position thanks to transfers Holden Staes from Notre Dame and Miles Kitselman from Alabama. 

Price said Kitselman is a player that will help more than a lot of people realize.

“He’s more physical than (Staes and Ethan Davis),” Price explained. “And I think the other two are a little bit more known for their pass-catching ability. … I think Kitselman can have a niche as a guy who can catch the ball also is physical in the run game.”

Don’t discount the importance of UT’s tight ends in the running game.

Tight end depth is another question — an injury could really hurt there — but the Vols should feel good about the way they replaced McCallan Castles and Jacob Warren.

⚫ Left guard remains a mystery

Which player has the upper hand in the battle to start at left guard?

“I don’t think there is one,” Price said. “If the game were starting today, I’d probably take Jackson Lampley or Dayne Davis.”

Andrej Karic could be another option in the fall, but he’s unproven and has been limited this spring due to injury.

Could a young player emerge between now and August to push for the left guard position?

Perhaps.

The job will remain up for grabs for the next 4-5 months.

Check out our full conversation with Austin Price as we discussed spring football and recruiting. ⬇️⬇️

TENNESSEE LANDS A BIG IN-STATE PROSPECT

Tennessee football received good news on Thursday when four-star defensive lineman Ethan Utley announced his commitment to the Vols.

Utley attends Ensworth School in Nashville and is a consensus top-five player in the state of Tennessee for the 2025 class.

He also should fit into Tennessee’s defensive scheme.

“He plays in a lot of three-man front at Ensworth but is probably better suited for a four-man front, which is what Tennessee runs,” Price said.

Tennessee has made the in-state class for 2025 a high priority.

Utley helps continue the momentum created by Brentwood Academy quarterback George MacIntyre, who committed to UT in January.

Utley’s commitment continues Tennessee’s strong run of defensive line recruiting.

Defensive coordinator Tim Banks spoke last week about his expectation for the Vols to have the nation’s best defensive line this fall.

But Tennessee will have to replace a bunch of those guys after the upcoming season.

Continuing to recruiting high-level defensive linemen like Utley will be a must to keep building the Vols’ defense.

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