Tennessee basketball heads into NCAA tournament for first round

TyTy Washington Jr.
Posted at 7:12 PM, Mar 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-16 20:26:59-04

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (WTVF) — As SEC Tournament champions and winners of 15 of the last 17 games, Tennessee is one of the most talked-about teams in the NCAA Tournament.

The same cannot be said for its first-round opponent.

Most people haven't even heard of Longwood, this year's no. 14 seed in the South Region. Even fewer can tell you where the school's located. For the record, it's Farmville, Virginia.

It could be easy to overlook a Lancers program that's making its first-ever trip to the Big Dance, but the Vols promise they are locked in on Thursday's Tournament opener.

"At this point, I don't think it matters who we are playing, even if you have heard of them before or not," Tennessee guard Santiago Vescovi said. "I think the NCAA Tournament, that's the fun part about it, and any team can beat any team at any point. Everybody is a champion in their own way. I don't think you can take any team for granted."

The lead Lancer has a pretty impressive resume, though you wouldn't expect it to land him on a college basketball sideline. Griff Aldrich was an international lawyer based in London, a chief financial officer and helped found an oil and gas company before becoming Longwood's basketball coach. 

But don't let Aldrich's unconventional path fool you. He can coach. The Lancers won 26 games, took home the Big South regular-season and tournament titles and boast one of the best offenses in the country, shooting 39 percent from three. 

"We're going to be challenged at a high level," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. "They shoot the ball extremely well. They assist each other on their shots. They have good player movement. They do a really good job of offensive rebounding. Defensively they do a really good job with their gap defense. We will have to have really good offense. And on the other end, we've got to get back and get our defense set."

While Tennessee players, like many people, may not have known much about Longwood when the brackets came out Sunday, hours of film study has changed that.

There won't be many secrets come tipoff Thursday at 1:45 p.m. on NewsChannel 5.

"By the time we play, we'll know them as well as any team we've played all year," big man John Fulkerson said.