Tennessee Talks Michigan

Dylan Burkhardt

Given the foreign nature of this game and the relative unfamiliarity between both programs, we decided to take a look through the press clippings from Knoxville.  My first impression is that these two teams feel completely different about the 8-9 game. For Tennessee, ranked #20 in the preseason, there is relief to be in the dance despite a disappointing season. Compare that to Michigan, who vastly overachieved to reach this game. Here’s a video from KnoxNews on Selection Sunday with reactions from the players and coaches after being given a nine seed:

Much more after the jump, including several notes on how successful Tennessee’s scout team was during Monday’s practice.

It’s never good when a video titled “Out-Dribbled by Distraction and Disappointment” leads off your NCAA Tournament preview story. That probably means that fans have mixed emotions at best about the state of the program:

When Tennessee players were initially asked about Michigan, they didn’t have much to say:

“We can’t afford to look past Michigan; they beat Michigan State twice this year, and that tells you everything you need to know,’’ Vols junior Scotty Hopson said. “But it would be awesome to play Duke; that would be a big stage for us.’’

Their quotes after a day of practice were a bit more intriguing, as the scout team apparently scored points at will against Tennessee’s defense in practice. Here’s what Brian Williams had to say on Michigan’s offense:.

“Just putting it in today on our scout team, those guys were successful running that offense against us,” UT senior center Brian Williams said. “That offense is tough to check.”

The Vols’ basketball IQ and court awareness will be tested like never before this season.

“It’s tough; they set a lot of screens, they read screens well, they do back-door actions. There’s a lot they can do,” UT senior Josh Bone said. “It’s not just one play; there are a variety of movements, and you have to stay focused.

“I hope we can come up with something that can stop them.”

Bruce Pearl agrees:

“I thought the scout team did really well,” Vols coach Bruce Pearl said. “Unfortunately, they did too well.”

“Michigan’s stuff is hard to guard, and it’s different than what we normally see,” Pearl said. “A lot of the principles that you need to have in the SEC about being away from your man and toward the ball and up lines, you’ve got to throw all that stuff out when you go up against that Princeton/Georgetown stuff. It was good to see it. We went against it. We’ve also taped it. What we’ll do now is we’ll put their action in our scout tapes, show our guys how we guarded it — where we guarded it well, where we struggled with it — and it’s going to have to be a learning process that will take place throughout the week, because we haven’t seen anything like this all year long.”

Even more (and remember, this is a scout team that had about 24 hours to learn Michigan’s offense):

Renaldo Woolridge was the perimeter shooting PF on Vols’ scout team today and looked good. Josh Bone: “Renaldo messed us up today. They’re getting wide-open shots, and we don’t know how.”

The opportunity is there for Zack Novak to score the ball. The Vols do realize that they have an advantage offensively at the four position with Zack Novak guarding Tobias Harris, the only question is how well they are able to exploit it.

“We’re ready for Tobias to have a big night in there, ya feel me?” junior guard Scotty Hopson said. “Obviously we want to expose that, because Tobias is obviously one of the best players on our team. We’re looking forward to getting the ball inside more and taking advantage of (Michigan’s) lack of posts.”

Added sophomore guard Skylar McBee: “We’ve got to go inside, because they’re a little bit smaller, so we have to kill them on the glass.”

All of that excitement seems to be intertwined with nightmares of  Time Warner Cable Arena. Tennessee lost to Charlotte in that same building this year and Louisville in the Sweet-16 three years ago.

“We haven’t won in that building during my career, and we shot the worst percentages there ever,’’ UT senior center Brian Williams said. “Hopefully, that will change.’’

Bruce Pearl also admitted that he is a fan of John Beilein’s 1-3-1 zone, admitting that he requested to visit with Beilein to learn a trick or two. Beilein wasn’t so keen on the idea and politely declined:

“I really like that 1-3-1 zone John runs, so three or four years ago we called him and told him we wanted to visit with him about it,” said Pearl, who isn’t shy about borrowing good ideas from coaches at the NBA and college level.

“John said, ‘I’ll send you all the tape you want, and I appreciate your interest, but generally speaking, we don’t visit with other people about what we do,’ ” Pearl said. “I was thinking about going to a 1-3-1 zone because our team was about to get longer.

John Beilein has excelled in NCAA Tournament situations because his system is so hard to prepare for in a short amount of time. By this point in the season, Michigan can throw a lot of looks at you offensively and defensively. Michigan can change up defenses – mostly running man with spurts of 1-3-1 and 2-3 zone – and has an offense that is endlessly complicated and intricate. There’s a reason that John Beilein routinely overachieves his seed in the NCAA Tournament.

  • ryan

    They did not seem too excited to be in the tournament. None of the players even clapped or cheered.
    Also, they seem to be overlooking michigan, or maybe they were until the scout team blew them out while running our offense. I sure hope they over look us.

  • Azad

    Maybe this is reading too much into things, but these comments from the coaches and the players do not really sound like a team that’s about to go win games in the NCAA Tournament. “They were getting open shots and we don’t know how”….really? Your coaches weren’t explaining to you what the errors were in playing against a “Michigan-style” offense? “Unfortunately the scout team did too well”? It all furthers what everyone has said about Tennessee being a team in total and complete disarray. This is probably reading too much into things but this all strikes me as very strange.

  • 2tone


    Do you happen to know what hotel Mich will be staying at?? Also, any “pep rally” related activities planned? Still in shock!!!!!

    • Dylan Burkhardt

      I’m not sure. I will pass along whatever information I come across. I believe there is generally open practice on Thursday but I haven’t seen a schedule.

      • 2tone


        • RJ

          Not sure about the hotel. But the local Michigan bar, Tavern on the Tracks (http://www.tavernonthetracks.net/) is probably the best place to meet up before the game. Its right on the light rail line to the arena. They are also havnig a Welcome Party the night before. – RJ

  • Mattski

    Going to be a lot of pressure on Zack.

    I wonder to what degree the format might favor one or the other team? Same number of TV timeouts in the Big Dance? Do the games become more halting and thus favor more deliberate teams? Does this change as you move through the brackets?

  • AG2

    Sounds like if we execute the offense well we have a good shot. Tennessee is still going to try and out-athleticise us especially with Tobias Harris on Zack Novak but it does sound like they’re not completely focused and are even looking ahead to Duke. Remember, this is the team that dominated Pitt on the road and turned around and lost to College of Charleston, Oakland, and UNC Charlotte.

    Also, the line has gone from Pick’em to Tennessee -2 so the public thinks Tennessee should win. Then again if the public knew how to pick winners there wouldn’t be all those luxurious skyscrapers in Las Vegas now would there be?

  • Kenny

    It is interesting to see that Fisher is right behind Izzo and Beilein on the overachieving chart.

  • Gary

    I think Pearl is playing some mind games with his players and the media.

  • JDR

    I love the site and I’ve been following for a while, but I was wondering if someone more knowledgeable than me could direct me to a page on the site (or another site) that explains why Beilein is so hard to coach against. In particular, what is it about his offense (the Georgetown/Princeton backdoor cut stuff?) that makes coaches have to scramble to get their teams ready? I just want to make sure I’m prepared for the game. Thanks!

    • Dylan Burkhardt

      Good question JDR. Without getting into too much, it’s that there are so many options to individual sets. With almost every play there are multiple reads which makes things much harder to prepare for. You prepare to do X to take away Y but once you do X they actually do Z, meaning that you have to prepare for Z as well.

      Overly simplistic, but that’s the gist of it.

      • JimC

        Just don’t explain X, Y, and Z! There might be Vols spying around these parts.

  • Players like Hopson are already looking forward to Duke it seems.

    As long as Mich stays focused on the glass and shoots decently from downtown, I see this being about a 10 point win.


  • Section13Row15

    Dylan, is it just me or do I trust Darius Morris so much that I feel like he’ll dictate the pace of this game and make sure it doesn’t end up in a track meet? A lot of teams have “out-sized” us up and down the roster but our style of play and the way Novak and others can take charges and do other things on defense besides just matching up physically makes me very excited to see this. I kind of like that we got placed in a tough bracket. Anyone else?

    • Kevine

      A lot of people mention us at being “outsized” but we’re really not that small. Sure, Novak gives up a lot of size. Stu and Morgan might give up a little. But Hardaway and Morris usually have couple inches on their guys. And when we put Smot at the 4 (which hasn’t been happening as much lately), we’re a pretty big team.

  • snoopblue

    I think Darius is going to have a huge game. He is a great player and is getting overshadowed by the overrated Scotty Hopson. He is going to play with a chip on his shoulder and tear shit up. We’ve shot relatively well on the road, so I think we’ll come out with a W.

  • Devin

    So this has been floating around the Michigan locker room and popped up on a few player’s facebook:


    • Brian W

      Nice article. Thanks for posting it.

  • bronxblue

    Very surprised to hear that the scout team lit up the starters that much with what has to be a very limited playbook. I’m sure some of that might be a little rope-a-dope/playing possuum on the part of Pearl to play up UM, but it definitely sounds like the Wolverines have the Volunteers’ attention after the initial “We can’t wait to play Duke” talk early on. I think that Novak should be able to exploit some mismatches because while Tennessee may be very athletic, what I’ve seen from them this season is a team that can run you out of the gym on a good day but can look lost against teams that move the ball around on the perimeter. They close out well on stationary shooters, but screens seem to give them trouble. Should be a good game.

    • Mattski

      That’s become my sense of it, too. If they’re hot from three it may be a long day. Otherwise, we should be in it down the stretch, controlling our destiny. Next year, maybe we blow a few more people out, but that doesn’t seem to be this team’s style.

      Guess we played well against Oakland. . .

  • SS

    I actually like that Tenn thinks Tobias is going to “have a big night in there.” Novak has guarded so many skilled tall and tough 4’s over his career that I think this Tobias will be in for a little surprise versus Novak. I mean Novak even guarded Blake Griffin if I remember correctly (hard to believe even thinking about it now).

    • JimC

      Yes, Novak got posterized though.

      • Fred_Ex

        Doesn’t make a difference being posterized by Blake Griffin as a Freshman is o.k. Novak played him strong and that Oklahoma team was a great squad last year. Tennessee looks flat and everyone keeps talking about there dangerous talent. IMO talented big men only takes you so far in the NCAA tournament. Our whole team is excited and our guard play will negate their size advantage. I watched there locker room video and it looked like someone’s dog died, not a team that just made the NCAA tournament.

  • Devin

    Does anyone else have TruTV but is still unable to watch the first round games right now?

    • Devin

      My TruTV channel has been blocked, and I know that I had it a few days ago.

    • JimC

      I’m getting TruTV fine on ATT UVerse… Clemson – UAB.

    • ForeverBlue23

      I’m getting TruTV (who knew) on Comcast HD.