Making a case for Syracuse to win the NCAA Tournament

Photo by Chad Cooper, courtesy of creative commons.org. No changes made.

If you had Syracuse in your Final Four, well, congrats. The 10th-seeded Orange were not projected to go this far. There was a popular belief that due to their above-average record of 19-13, they did not even belong in the NCAA Tournament.

The majority of bracket “experts” had Syracuse getting knocked out by Dayton in the first round. My, how Jim Boeheim’s squad has surprised us. They beat Dayton, then took out 15-seed Middle Tennessee State, then knocked off Gonzaga in the Sweet 16, and finally, disposed of the No. 1 seed, Virginia, in the Elite Eight.

Now that Syracuse is in the Final Four, here’s how the Orange can win it all.

Defense

Might as well start with what Boeheim’s teams are known for — the 2-3 zone defense. After losing five of its last six games before the NCAA Tournament, Syracuse revamped the defense. The Orange have allowed only about 56 points per game in the tournament. In the Elite Eight game against Virginia, a solid defensive team itself, a necessary full-court press defense suffocated the Cavaliers. Boeheim said his team’s defense has improved at movement and getting out to shooters, and has also done a better job of rebounding in the tournament. Nasty defense, whether it is the usual zone or an occasional press, is what has propelled Syracuse past opponents for years.

Michael Gbinije & Malachi Richardson

Syracuse has a luxury that many teams do not possess, with a reliable big man and capable guards. Gbinije has provided a consistent presence in the tournament, scoring in double digits in every game. He had over 20 points against both Middle Tennessee and Gonzaga, but did not play as well against Virginia. Luckily for the Orange, Richardson stepped up with 21 points in the second half against the Cavaliers. Throughout the tournament, Gbinije and Richardson  have complemented each other with their play. For Syracuse to get past North Carolina, it will take a total team effort. Gbinije and Richardson have the ability to lead that charge.

Nothing to lose

While everyone in America (just about) had picked Kansas, Michigan State, or North Carolina to win the national title, only the truest of homers had Syracuse going all the way. The players know that. There is a ton of pressure on North Carolina to win the NCAA Tournament, especially with the Tar Heels being the only remaining No. 1 seed. Oklahoma and Villanova also had high expectations coming into the dance. Even Syracuse’s players, if they are being honest, probably didn’t expect to make it all the way to the Final Four. This team has a “nothing to lose” mentality. They’ve made it this far. Why not a national title, too?

Featured image by Chad Cooper

Edited by David Bradford

Club Week: Women’s volleyball club builds lasting friendships

Lana Bednarczyk is a junior industrial engineering major at the University of Tennessee. For the record, a quick Google search proves, by nearly all accounts, that is one of the hardest—and most rewarding—college majors out there.

But it’s not all busy schoolwork for Bednarczyk. She spends a good portion of her down time with the women’s volleyball club at UT. As a member of the club since her freshman year, Bednarczyk has built lasting relationships.

“The girls on the team are pretty much my best friends at school,” Bednarczyk said. “It’s really a good outlet and a good stress reliever to go do something that we all love to do.”

UT's club volleyball practices get pretty intense come tournament time // Photo courtesy of Lana Bednarczyk
UT’s club volleyball practices get pretty intense come tournament time // Photo courtesy of Lana Bednarczyk

Bednarczyk has played volleyball since she was in sixth grade, and after her high school career ended, she didn’t want to stop. Her sister was a senior on the volleyball club team and convinced her to join.

The women’s club volleyball team, founded in 1998, consists of two or three teams, depending on each semester’s turnout. The teams travel around the southeast, playing in a number of tournaments against other SEC and ACC schools.

“Usually, we travel to about five or six tournaments a semester,” Bednarczyk said. “This semester, we’ve been to Auburn, North Carolina and Georgia Tech. We went to Emory last semester. The traveling isn’t too bad.”

Interestingly, the team does not have a coach. Micaela Bailey, a senior at UT, is the team president. “She holds a big leadership position,” Bednarczyk said.

“We don’t have a coach, but her [Bailey] and the other officers fill that role in a sense. They usually decide what we’re going to do at practice, but they are playing with us as well.”

The club team practices twice a week, for about two hours on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s, in the Joan Cronan Volleyball Center.

Bednarczyk added that the club experience is quite different from playing in high school, because players don’t always have a coach telling them exactly what to do.

Often, the team establishes its own consequences. For instance, if someone misses a certain number of practices, they have to run. This is a good way to provide expectations, says Bednarczyk.

Tennessee's volleyball club is open to any student who wants to join // Photo courtesy of Lana Bednarczyk
Tennessee’s volleyball club is open to any student who wants to join. // Photo courtesy of Lana Bednarczyk

Anyone can join the women’s club volleyball team. The club has an interest meeting in the fall, usually around August, to gauge interest from students.

While volleyball is typically a fall sport, the club team also plays in the spring.

Currently, the team is getting ready for nationals next week at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center in Louisville, Kentucky. The NCVF Collegiate Club Volleyball Championships will be held April 7-9.

Dues to join the women’s volleyball club are $200 per semester. According to the club’s website, that money covers all travel fees (excluding food), and all practice fees.

To find out more about UT’s women’s volleyball club, students should email tennessee_volleyball@yahoo.com.

As Bednarczyk’s experience proves, it could be a good way to not only keep playing, but to also make a lasting friend.

Featured image by Lana Bednarczyk

Edited by Jessica Carr

NCAA Tournament Breakdown: South Region

Photo by Hillel Steinberg, courtesy of creativecommons.org. No changes made.

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College basketball fans have been waiting for this moment since November. March is finally here. Now that Selection Sunday is out of the way, madness has begun. All across America, millionaire hopefuls are filling out what they believe to be the perfect bracket. Sadly, by this time next week, most of those people will have set fire to their brackets. But if you read TNJN Sports, lucky for you. We’ve got you covered with a breakdown of every region. Here is what to watch for in the South.

The Favorite

Kansas is the overall No. 1 seed, so naturally, a lot of people have the Jayhawks going all the way. With a 30-4 record and its 297th-consecutive Big XII title, Kansas has proved its worth this season. In all reality, the Jayhawks have only won 12 conference titles in a row, but their utter dominance makes it seem like it’s been forever. With wins over Baylor, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Kentucky, to name a few, Kansas is rightfully deserving of the No. 1 seed. In the past, being a No. 1 seed has been an advantage for Kansas. Bill Self’s squad won the NCAA Championship in 2008 and made it to the Final Four in 2012. However, in the past two seasons, Kansas has lost in the round of 32 to Stanford and Wichita State, respectively.

Contenders

How about Villanova? The second-seeded Wildcats play excellent defense and distribute the ball as well as any team in the country. Nova has proven it can play with just about anybody, making it a popular pick to advance. Cuonzo Martin’s California Golden Bears also come to mind as a contender in the South. Similar to his teams at Tennessee, this year’s talent-loaded squad at Cal struggled with the schedule early, but has played well in February. Cal is 9-2 in its last 11 games. A team that gets hot at the right time is tough to knock off. Then, there’s Arizona, coached by NCAA Tournament-experienced Sean Miller. His last two teams at Arizona have been to the Elite Eight. While some may view this season as a down year in comparison to the last two, the Wildcats are plenty capable of making noise in March. They are one of the nation’s best scoring teams and have the ability to rebound with two seven-footers playing a significant role.

Pretenders

Miami comes to mind first as a pretender. The Hurricanes earned a No. 3 seed with 25 wins on the resume, but losses to Northeastern, Clemson, and NC State really make you scratch your head. Miami just doesn’t seem like a legitimate threat, especially with a second-round game against Arizona, Vanderbilt, or Wichita State looming. Iowa is another team that probably won’t get very far, having lost five of its last six games. The Hawkeyes’ first-round bout with 10th-seeded Temple may be as far as they get. The Owls are playing well at the right time and want to get their hands on fellow Philadelphia rival Villanova. Miami and Iowa are pretenders. And so is Maryland, sadly. It hurts to say it for a Terps team that came into the year with such great expectations. But again, you need momentum heading into the big dance. Maryland has struggled down the stretch, losing about every other game it plays. Understandably, the Big Ten is a tough league, but Maryland isn’t ready to make an NCAA Tournament run.

The “Cinderella”

It’s Vanderbilt, OK? I know, the Commodores aren’t your typical “Cinderella” squad that comes out of nowhere to make a run. In fact, I was going to put South Dakota State here, but the more I look at it, I’m not convinced the Jackrabbits will have the firepower to knock off Maryland, and honestly, I don’t see many mid-majors in the South Region that are too dangerous. Vandy is interesting, though. The Commodores are an 11-seed and get an awful draw having to play Wichita State just for a chance to meet Arizona. But that’s exactly why they can be Cinderella. The Commodores are built for a Sweet 16 run. They have size, they can shoot the three, and they have a proven track record with wins over Kentucky, Texas A&M, and Stony Brook. They haven’t lived up to their full potential, but have played well down the stretch, for the most part. It’s going to be a gauntlet, but Vandy has the right personnel to get through it. Keep an eye on the Commodores.

The Sleeper

This is different from the “Cinderella,” because it is more about a team that people could see making a run, if not for a low seed and a bad loss here and there. The sleeper in the South Region is UConn. Boy, oh boy, are the Huskies dangerous. They have four players who score over 12 points per game. Defensively, UConn has some of the best defenders it has had under coach Kevin Ollie, allowing only 63 points per game. And let us not understate UConn’s ability to win in March. In 2010-11, the Huskies were having a pretty average year before reeling off five wins in five days to capture a Big East Tournament crown. They went on to win another six straight en route to a national championship. In the 2013-14 season, it happened again. UConn got hot late in the season and earned a No. 7 seed as an at-large team. The Huskies moved on to win another NCAA Championship when nobody expected it. History doesn’t always repeat itself, but this year’s UConn team just unexpectedly won the AAC Tournament. Watch out in the second round, Kansas.

Players to Watch

Melo Trimble is a helluva college basketball guard. He is Maryland’s leading scorer and distributes five assists per game, on average. Though I’m not sold on the Terps right now, a couple of lights-out performances by Trimble could change my mind. Also, keep an eye on big man Luke Kornet for Vanderbilt. The Commodores will go as far as he goes in the tournament. Kornet will have to play well in the paint for Vandy to make a run, and I think he will. The guy is a leader. There aren’t many seven-footers in the region as athletic as Kornet. Finally, don’t forget about Perry Ellis at Kansas. Ellis is an intense post presence, even without being a great rebounder. He is Kansas’ leading scorer. If Ellis doesn’t foot the bill down low, the Jayhawks will have a difficult time in the tournament. The senior, Ellis, is the key to Kansas’ success.

What I Think Will Happen

In round one, Kansas, UConn, Maryland, California, Vanderbilt, Miami, Temple, and Villanova will be your winners. As you can see, I’m buying the Commodores and Owls. Concerning the second round, I am really, really, really tempted to take UConn over Kansas. I’ve almost convinced myself it is going to happen. But for once, I’ll play it safe. Make no mistake, I will hate myself when UConn wins, but I’m going with Kansas. I like Cal to advance over Maryland, Vandy over Miami, and Villanova slightly over Temple. In the Sweet 16, I think Cal beats Kansas. Everybody thinks Cuonzo’s team is going out early, but they are way better now than they were two months ago. From a talent standpoint, Cal is one of the most gifted teams in America. I never trust Kansas, and usually, that pays off. I also like Villanova to end Vandy’s “Cinderella” run at this point. So, in the Elite Eight, I’ve got Cal and Nova. I’ll give the nod to to the Wildcats to get to the Final Four in the South Region.

Note: The predictions made in this South Region preview are bound to change at least 25 times between now and Thursday. 

Featured image by Hillel Steinberg

Edited by Jordan Dajani

Lady Vols notch No. 7 seed in NCAA Tournament

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The NCAA announced its 2016 Women’s Basketball Tournament bracket on Monday evening and the Lady Vols found out where they will be playing.

Tennessee (19-13) notched a No. 7 seed, which is an all-time low for the program in terms of tournament seeding. The Lady Vols will face 10th-seeded Green Bay in the opening round of the Sioux Falls, South Dakota region.

Green Bay comes into the contest with a 28-4 record, fresh off a dominant win over Milwaukee in the Horizon League championship game. Green Bay beat one of Tennessee’s SEC foes, Vanderbilt, back in November.

The game will be played in Tempe, Arizona, where the winner will advance to take on either the No. 2 seed, Arizona State, or the No. 15 seed, New Mexico State on Sunday.

Tip-off against Green Bay is set for Friday at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

Featured image by Donald Page, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics 

Edited by Jordan Dajani

I’ll Write What You’re Thinking: Diversity matters

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Let me preface this column by letting everyone know where I stand.

I am an American citizen who is not defined by a political party. I do not like crazy “PC-bro” liberals and I do not like crazy Christian conservatives who rely on nothing but the Bible for their political views.

That’s not to say there is anything wrong with watching your speech out of respect for people or reading your Bible everyday. But it is the extremists on both the left and the right that drive me nuts.

The way I see it, anyone who believes their views are 100 percent correct is stupid. There isn’t one “right” way. All of us, as humans, are different and changing. How can someone be so arrogant that they don’t listen to what other people say? Knowledge, from all backgrounds, is what improves us.

I like guns in homes. I like gay people getting married. I like conservative economics. I like the idea of legalizing recreational drugs. I like less government interference. I like social freedom. Abortion is too confusing, so I’ll say I remain pretty neutral on that one.

I think that, for the most part, I’m pretty much in the middle. I’m not a Republican or a Democrat. I just try to think about things. I like to look at both sides. Why make group-based decisions about individuals?

With all that said, I have reached a conclusion:

Diversity matters.

Now, I’m not going to lie. When I first heard that a Senate panel voted to strip funding from UT’s diversity office, I didn’t really see what all the fuss was about. Was it really that big of a deal?

And admittedly, I usually can’t hear the word “diversity” without thinking about Anchorman and Ron Burgundy.

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But then, I thought a little more about it.

Diversity means variety. It means different. Its synonyms are words like “mixture,” “variation,” and “contrast.”

Without diversity, our lives would be extremely boring. We would be a nation of people who looked the same, talked the same, thought the same, and were the same. Who would be excited about that?

I’m not about to go into the specifics of diversity in today’s society. I’m not educated enough on the matter to do so. I can’t tell you if certain groups are marginalized or underrepresented. And I can’t tell you if there is enough diversity in Hollywood or not.

But I can tell you what diversity has done for me.

When I was in high school, I thought I was a conservative. I had never experienced an environment other than my home in rural Arkansas. I had views that were stupid and poorly thought out.

When I got to UT, I took an African Studies class to fulfill a cultural studies requirement. The class was taught by Dr. Amadou Sall, who is from Africa (just like all the rest of us, as he would no doubt tell you).

Dr. Sall prompted me to think in ways I hadn’t thought before. It was a life-changer for me. I wasn’t a racist, but my views were extremely narrow. He made me, and others, realize that the idea of separation between people was terribly disappointing to him. In Africa, communities are tight.

The class was hard from an information standpoint. I did C- work, yet ended up with a B+. That’s because Dr. Sall didn’t care so much about letter grades. He cared about people leaving with the ability to think. I thank him for that.

Interestingly, the class was full of different kinds of people. There were white students, such as myself, a lot of black students, and an Asian girl that I remember in particular. Also, there was a “hippy” kind of girl, who came in with braided hair, colorful clothing, and a scent of marijuana every day. Hey, cool with me.

There were a ton of different opinions and different backgrounds in the class. That is what made it thrive. It was diverse. People had different views. When people think differently than you, as long as you listen to what they say, you become smarter. Weighing different opinions in your head is healthy. And it stems from diversity.

After that class, I was changed. My views became very left-heavy. I went from a conservative person to a liberal person just like that. It only took opening my mind. However, as I’ve grown over the past two or three years, many of my “left” views have diminished as well.

I think more conservatively on some things now. As I said earlier, I think I am honestly right in the middle. These days, I’m not a liberal or a conservative. I’m just a guy who does his best to listen to people.

Diversity helped me learn how to listen and how to think.

It is important because it exposes us to people who are different than us. When you think in a certain way, then someone presents information that counters your views, isn’t that great? Politics, religion, sports… None of it would be any fun if we were all the same.

Diversity matters.

At least, to me it does.

“I’ll Write What You’re Thinking” is a column written by Tennessee Journalist sports editor Cody McClure. The opinion of our writers/bloggers are not a reflection of the opinion of the Tennessee Journalist as a whole.

Featured image by Wade Rackley

Edited by Jessica Carr

Second-half surge propels Hogs past Tennessee 75-65

Tennessee's men's basketball team fell to Arkansas for the second time this season on Saturday // Photo by Sam Forman

[title_box title=”Second-half surge propels Hogs past Tennessee 75-65″]

Still without leading scorer Kevin Punter, Tennessee (13-16, 6-10 SEC) looked sloppy in the second half of a 75-65 loss to Arkansas in Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday night.

The Razorbacks (15-14, 8-8 SEC) could not be stopped from the field in the second half, shooting 59 percent en route to only their second win away from Fayetteville this season.

“Our second-half defense is what hurt us today,” said Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes. “We fought back but we didn’t play as hard as you have to play in the second half to win a game.”

The Hogs were led by Dusty Hannahs and Anthlon Bell, who put up 17 and 16 points, respectively. Anton Beard also scored in double figures.

For Tennessee, Armani Moore finished the day with 17 points and 11 rebounds.

“What can you say? Armani [Moore] was unbelievable, really. He needed more help from his teammates,” said Barnes. “He made some passes tonight that should have been easy plays.”

Admiral Schofield and Shembari Phillips also finished with double figures for UT.

The first half was filled with consistent scoring from both teams. The Hogs and Vols both shot over 40 percent from the field, but Arkansas led 34-33 at the break as a result of Bell’s 13 first-half points. Phillips and Moore combined for 20 points in the first half to keep the Vols in the game.

Tennessee got off to a quick start in the second half after Devon Baulkman put up the Vols’ first four points, but then Arkansas retaliated and it was more back-and-forth scoring for the first few minutes of the half.

The Razorbacks started to pull away around the ten-minute mark, despite being out-rebounded by Tennessee 42-33 and outscored in the paint, 34-26.

Three-point efficiency was the key for Arkansas in the final ten minutes. The Hogs shot 47 percent (9-of-19), while UT hit only a measly 19 percent (4-of-21) on the night.

Barnes said in the post-game press conference he did not have a timetable for Punter’s return. “If it were up to him [Punter], he would have played today. He would play on one foot if we would let him.”

The Vols will try to bounce back in Nashville on Tuesday when they travel to play Vanderbilt. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.

Featured image by Sam Forman

Edited by Jordan Dajani