June 21, 2024

Opinion: Cinderella wears orange and white

Cinderella’s come in all colors, shapes and sizes. In this year’s NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, Cinderella may be wearing orange and white.

JACKSONVILLE, FL - MARCH 05, 2016 - Hands in the air in the huddle during the game between the Mississippi State Bulldogs and the Tennessee Lady Volunteers in the SEC tournament in Jacksonville, FL. Photo By Donald Page/Tennessee Athletics

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I’m not really a fashion guy per se. My idea of a nice outfit consists of jeans and a sweater, even when the temperature is north of 80 degrees. I often wear the same pair of shoes for a year straight. And I always forget to wear a belt. Clearly, I’m no fashion guru, but there is no question that my fashion sense is on point when I say this:

Cinderella would look good in orange and white.

Seriously, orange and white is a criminally underrated color combo. This is part of the reason why I transferred from Austin Peay to Tennessee. Sure, I love to scream “Go Vols!” to high schoolers taking campus tours and shamelessly tack “#GBO” at the end of my tweets just as much as the next guy, but the vibrancy of orange and white is pure eye candy to me.

This killer color combo is dawned on the jerseys of Tennessee athletes, and since it’s March Madness right now, and because March Madness isn’t truly mad without a Cinderella run, why can’t Cinderella wear orange and white?

Yes, that’s right, despite a rocky season on Rocky Top, the Tennessee Lady Vols are in prime position to make a run to the Final Four.

No, I am not a homer. No, this team does not remind me of the 10-loss 1996-1997 Tennessee squad that won its second of three straight national championships. No, I have not completely lost my mind picking this Lady Vol team to make a run after the season it had. Me believing the No. 16 seed Austin Peay Governors would beat the No. 1 overall seed Kansas Jayhawks was the moment I lost my mind. And I genuinely made that pick. Like, actually submitted brackets with that pick and spent countless hours attempting to convince myself that pick wasn’t insane.

But I digress. After a season full of “Fire Holly” campaigns and blown fourth quarter leads, the program earned a No. 7 seed, the lowest in its history. More than struggles on the court, there were alleged tensions between players and coaches off it.

What a dramatic season it has been on Rocky Top, but doesn’t that help add to the juiciness of a potential Cinderella run? This team has the talent. This team has provided Vol Nation with glimpses of brilliance after wins over Oregon State and Texas A&M. This team is playing its best basketball right now. But the question is, can this team make it to the Final Four? The answer to that question is Y-E-S. Yes.

Did I mention that the road to the Final Four leads to Indianapolis? You know who used to play for the Indianapolis Colts? Peyton Manning. You know where Manning went to college? Tennessee.

This is destiny, folks. You can’t write a script like this.

The Run

I don’t care what anybody says. The Lady Vols are not losing to Green Bay. They play in the HORIZON LEAGUE. You know what sets in the horizon? The sun. You know what color the sun is? Orange. What color does Tennessee represent? Orange. The Lady Vols will set the Horizon champs ablaze Friday. Unless Aaron Rodgers is suiting up for the Phoenix, Tennessee’s athleticism alone will lead to an easy victory.

What I love the most about the women’s tournament is how “neutral” the courts are. Next, the Lady Vols get the No. 2 seed Arizona State Sun Devils in Tempe, Arizona, a team that plays no player more than 30 minutes per game. Yes, they have depth and balance, but the Sun Devils are a walking, living, breathing paradox. Boasting one of the worst offenses in the tournament bar none, their shooting ability sharply opposes the sun that bakes Arizonians. And it’s not like Tennessee has a great offense either. If watching paint dry is your favorite national pastime, you’ll love this game. Both teams will shoot 30 percent or lower, turn the ball over a combined 45 times, and attempt over 50 combined free throws. In these type of games, the team with the best player prevails. Arizona State doesn’t have one player they can consistently rely on to take over a game. Diamond DeShields will be the best player on the court and has takeover capability. Her late-game shooting propels the Lady Vols to the Sweet 16.

Ohio State guard Kelsey Mitchell averaged 25 points per game during the regular season, but stands at 5-foot-8. Tennessee will give the 6-foot-1 DeShields the daunting task of guarding the 2015 Big Ten Player of the Year. DeShield’s size and athleticism will give Mitchell fits, but because she will have to exude so much energy, other players on the Lady Vol offense must step up. Mercedes Russell has a four-inch height advantage over the Buckeyes’ post players. It’s close, but Tennessee’s size will be too much for Ohio State, sending them to the Elite Eight.

This is the moment everyone has been waiting for. The former SEC dynasty against the new SEC Queens. South Carolina, the Sioux Falls’ Region No. 1 seed, will have all the pressure to advance. How could they not? At this point, their overall record would be 34-1, including a 62-56 win over the Lady Vols in Thompson-Boling Arena. The Gamecocks are an inside team who struggle with consistent outside shooting. Tennessee keeps A’ja Wilson and company out of the paint, forcing them to become a jump shooting team. Remember, for the majority of their regular season meeting, the Lady Vols kept pace with South Carolina. By making the Gamecocks uncomfortable on the offensive end, Tennessee squeaks out the stunning upset and advances to its first Final Four since 2008.

I know. All of this seems very improbable. Green Bay is a formidable opening round opponent. Arizona State, playing at home, is a stout defensive unit. Ohio State has a number of players who can take over a game. South Carolina is both more talented and experienced than the Lady Vols. Call me overly hopefully or blinded by bias, but Tennessee is more than capable of making a run.

In the SEC Tournament, DeShields showcased her massive potential and was often the best athlete on the court. She can use her elite ball-handling skills to either weave through defenses and penetrate the lane; or create spacing and knock down an outside shot. When DeShields is in rhythm, she is borderline unstoppable. The problem with DeShields has always been consistency. Both Graves and Russell provide toughness in the paint, but their scoring has to pick up. Role players like Kortney Dunbar need to play their role perfectly. Te’a Cooper and Jaime Nared have to shoot better than 35 percent from the floor.

The clock might strike midnight earlier than I expect, but Tennessee can wash away all the bitterness from this season with an impressive tournament showing, and ignite the program back into a positive direction.

Featured image by Donald Page, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Edited by Cody McClure