Detroit Free Press sports writer Mark Snyder scouts Friday's Sweet 16 game between No. 2 Michigan and No. 11 Tennessee:
Michigan's guard-heavy team increases the pressure on the triple threat of Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton to offset Tennessee's big man edge. Against Texas, they combined to hit 9-of-19 threes, a number that may have to be repeated today to stretch the Tennessee defense, which has allowed just 29.6% three-point shooting in the tournament. They also showed an ability to adapt against Texas, making Stauskas the distributor with eight assists. Tennessee's SEC all-defensive guard Josh Richardson draws Stauskas and the Vols have been able to hold down scoring guards this year, holding 11 talented guards to single digits, well below their averages. Walton will have to overcome defensive-focused Antonio Barton. U-M will face a backcourt that's a similar size – 6-6, 6-6, 6-2 – and has its own primary scorer in Jordan McRae, averaging 18.6 points per game in the tournament.
Given the way Vols big man Jarnell Stokes is playing (20.3 points, 15 rebounds), there may not be a more potent big man remaining in the tournament. At 6-foot-8, 260 pounds, he's an athletic force, able to catch the ball inside the three-point circle and drive, but still attack the offensive glass with abandon. It will be all U-M's Jordan Morgan can do to push him away from the backboard and avoid foul trouble. The more interesting matchup for Michigan is Glenn Robinson III vs. Jeronne Maymon, who is also 6-8, 260. Robinson is giving away 40 pounds at one end, but could force Maymon to step out and handle him on the perimeter, plus if U-M can run out, it could neutralize Maymon's size.
Tennessee doesn't get a lot from its bench, at least not in the three games of the tournament so far. Armani Moore and Darius Thompson both have averaged over 12 minutes in the three games but have combined to score 11 points. But as 6-5 guards, they can help passing the ball – a combined 8 assists and no turnovers – plus get on the glass. Michigan's bench may play a bigger role today with its big men as Jon Horford and Max Bielfeldt may have to eat minutes given the rigor of Tennessee's big men. Zak Irvin may be more of a bench weapon with his size as a small forward than Spike Albrecht, who could struggle against Tennessee's backcourt length.
U-M coach John Beilein thinks tournament momentum only exists within a weekend, so whatever either team had from last weekend resets. For Tennessee the thrill of winning three games in five days has subsided as has U-M two double-digit wins. Michigan's biggest edge is that most of its players have played on the raised court and in a dome setting before, but that evens out quickly. Having experience playing deeper in the tournament is worth something. It's all new for Tennessee.
John Beilein continues to get the most out of his team, regardless of challenging matchups or his team's holes, in the NCAA Tournament. He's 9-4 at U-M in the NCAAs and has faced all different situations. Given almost a week to prepare for the Vols, he'll have something unique. Tennessee's Cuonzo Martin has built a tough, physical team in his own image, with size everywhere. But his team's penchant for losing close games – 7 since mid-December within 10 points – reflects on him as a younger coach, especially compared to Beilein's team, with 14 straight wins in that same situation. Martin has been impressive in his first NCAA Tournament but there's an imbalance here.
If not for their seed, the Wolverines probably would not be favored in this game. They lose the physical matchups and are facing a team that can win multiple ways. But John Beilein has been through this a few times and, given time to prep, is a master in these situations. As long as Jordan Morgan stays on the court (who would have imagined that three months ago?) and they shoot 40% from three, they have a good chance. Lose Morgan and it could be a quick end to the season.
: Michigan 72, Tennessee 68