It’s been a long and winding road for the Tennessee Vols this season, but it’s become oh-so-sweet here lately.
The Vols (24-12) are in their 4th Sweet Sixteen in 8 years, and their first since 2010 when they reached the Elite Eight. The Vols have won 3 straight NCAA Tournament games for the first time since that same season, and head coach Cuonzo Martin has become the first Tennessee men’s basketball head coach to start his NCAA Tournament career 3-0.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Vol fans. Yes, this has been a great ride and this team definitely deserves all the praise being given them, but let’s not forget there’s still a game to be played this Friday, and the opponent will be the toughest team UT has faced since No. 1 Florida in the SEC Tournament.
The aforementioned team is none other than the Michigan Wolverines. The Wolverines (27-8) made it all the way to the NCAA Championship game last season before losing to Louisville, so to say they’ve been here before is an understatement. This group is young, but all of them are familiar with big games and shouldn’t shrink in the spotlight of the Sweet Sixteen.
Here are some things you should know about the Michigan Wolverines and their game against the Vols in the Sweet Sixteen:
Michigan, in many ways, is a team on the opposite end of the spectrum from the Vols. They rely on their guards more than their post players, as none of their current contributing players average over 5 rebounds per game, although 6-8 250 lbs. senior forward Jordan Morgan has averaged 12.5 points and 10 rebounds a game in the Tournament.
This group of Wolverines features a solid starting unit with key bench contributors. They are lead by 6-6 guard Nik Stauskas who leads the team with 17.4 points per game and also chips in 3.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. Glenn Robinson III and Caris LeVert both average 13.1 points per game, and they are two of the most vital contributors for the Wolverines.
The Wolverines, like the Vols, play good defense. Michigan only allows 64.6 points per game to their opponents, ranking 34th in the NCAA. Compare that to Tennessee’s 61.4 (14th), and it’s apparent a defensive game might be in store for this Sweet Sixteen match-up.
Another element where these two teams diverge in regards to style is three-point shooting. Michigan shoots three-pointers at a 39.8% clip, whereas the Vols only shoot the 3-ball at 32.6%.
Michigan is also very stingy with the ball, only turning the ball over 9.3 times per game, which was second-best in the Big Ten behind only Wisconsin’s 8 turnovers per game. Tennessee, however, protects the ball as well, only giving away 10.6 possessions per game, which is best in the SEC.
One good for thing UT is that 6-10 sophomore forward Mitch McGary is still not expected to play. McGary has not played since Dec. 14th against Arizona, and he averaged 9.5 points and and 8.3 rebounds per game in a key role on Michigan’s roster.
If Tennessee hopes to win this game, they will need to impose their will inside and use their size advantage once again to try and tough out a win. These two teams have contrasting styles, and whichever team can force the other to play out of their element will likely earn the victory. Tune in on Friday at 7:15 to watch the Vols take on the Wolverines in a great Sweet Sixteen showdown.
All stats via CBSsports.com
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