NCAA Tournament 2011: Michigan vs. Tennessee Preview

Dylan Burkhardt
Who: Tennessee (19-14) vs. Michigan (20-13) logo-rugs-tennessee-unive3070
Where: Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte, NC
When: 12:40 PM ET, Friday, March 18th
TV: TruTV / Streaming /
Radio: MGoBlue / WTKA 1050 AM
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Naturally, we’ve already covered this one quite a bit with some first impressions, a more detailed individual scouting, some quotes from the Tennessee side of things, and pregame videos. Luckily this game is of a large enough magnitude that we have room for our game preview as well.

The drastic differences between Bruce Pearl and John Beilein are likely to be emphasized even more than first expected. Rumors about Pearl’s future in Tennessee began to swirl on Wednesday afternoon and it appears that the head coach’s days are numbered. It’s almost impossible to project how that effects the game at hand — the entire pregame news conference revolved around Pearl’s status. Does Tennessee rally behind their belittled leader or do they roll over and call it quits. At the end of the day, there’s more to the game than the team’s emotional well being.

Tennessee struggles on the offensive end of the court, ranking just 72nd in Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency rankings and 7th in the SEC. On the season, the Vols posted respectable turnover and free throw rates. That success didn’t translate to SEC play as Tennessee ranked 7th in turnover rate and 10th in free throw rate. The one thing that Tennessee does really well, better than most teams in the country, is crash the offensive glass. The Vols rebound 38% of their missed shots, the 12th best offensive rebounding rate in the country. Tennessee plays at a fairly average tempo for an SEC team, 67 possessions per game, but that puts them right on line with the fastest Big Ten teams (Iowa and Purdue).

Pomeroy’s ratings have Tennessee’s adjusted defensive efficiency ranked 48th. The Vol defense is good because it has no weaknesses. It’s not great because it has no true strengths. Tennessee ranks between 100th and 200th nationally in all four factors and from 4th to 7th in SEC play. Despite a statistical profile that appears to lack an identity, it’s still clear that Tennessee’s defense revolves around forcing turnovers. The Vols forced turnovers on 20.8% of SEC possessions, a mark which ranked 4th in the SEC but would only trail Ohio State in the Big Ten.

I covered most of Tennessee’s personnel extensively in this post but the two guys that Michigan needs to be most worried about are Scotty Hopson and Tobias Harris. Hopson averages 17.4 points and 3.4 rebounds per game with an effective field goal percentage of 51.8%. He’s the best perimeter shooter on the Vol roster, 37.7%, but thrives taking the ball to the rack. Harris, a true freshman, is a likely one-and-done player that averages 15.2 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Harris can put the ball on the floor and get to the hole, he also has skill with his back to the basket. He’ll shoot jumpshots but he’s not a great perimeter shooter, 31% on 75 attempts, and is much more effective around the rim.

Because this game matches up two teams that play dramatically different styles of basketball, conventional wisdom is that whichever team forces their style of play on the game will have the upper hand. That means the keys for Michigan are pretty simple:

  • Force Tennessee to shoot jumpshots: Tennessee is deadly around the basket but is not a great jumpshooting team, especially from three point range. If Michigan can limit the easy looks and prevent penetration, Tennessee is very beatable. I suspect that Michigan will try to pack the defense in quite a bit, maybe even opting for some zone looks, to force Tennessee into shooting the ball.
  • Control the defensive glass: This is the toughest item on Michigan’s checklist. Tennessee has seemingly limitless size and athleticism, and is extremely aggressive crashing the glass. If Michigan is able to grab defensive rebounds, opportunities are there to push the ball and find open shots in transition.
  • Limit turnovers: Tennessee will force Michigan into uncomfortable situations, that’s a given. The question is how the Wolverines react. Darius Morris needs to play a calm and collected game because if he shows patience there will be opportunities to make plays.

Pomeroy gives Michigan a 57% chance at advancing, predicting a final score of 65-63. Most national pundits seem to be siding with Tennessee and Vegas agrees. Michigan opened as a 1 point favorite in Vegas but the line has shifted toward Tennessee and Michigan is now a 2 point underdog. Let’s hear your predictions in this poll as well as the comments.

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  • Chris in NC

    Who the hell has us losing by double digits? I sure hope it’s a joke…

  • Dan

    Small note..does it start at 12:30 or 12:40? (I have class until 1 hope it’s 40)

  • Section13Row15

    12:40 on TruTV

  • Mattski

    Will this game be on the internet, does anyone know? Or am I having a late burger and trying to keep my daughter occupied at Applebee’s?

    Looks like ESPN3 has the NIT, and CBS may only have one game at a time available live. . .

    • Dylan Burkhardt

      They are all streamed on

      • Mattski

        woohoo! thanks. . .

    • Mattski

      P.S. I see Pearl’s possible firing as another wild card and find this one hard to predict. We don’t blow people out, so I assume it’ll be a nail biter. We will look very good a times, they will have their spurts. Looking to Darius to show his maturity and his creativity; Zack to play superdude on D; Hardaway to grab rebounds, shoot some daggers, and hang onto the (dam*ed) ball; Stu to make Harris a nonfactor; Horford to be a pleasant surprise spelling JoMo; JoMo to stay in the game; and several of our long-range guys to STEP UP and KNock em down!

      Darn, am I geeked for this.

  • Brian W

    Talor Battle, en fuego. Penn State is up on Temple 20-11.

  • AG2

    Yep, he’s sure come to play. ODU on the other hand is squandering its rebounding and free throw advantage with foolish turnovers and poor shooting. I can’t stand it when teams gift Butler undeserved wins.

    • Mith

      Is this a common occurance? I’m not aware of when Butler gains “undeserved wins”.

  • AG2

    If ODU makes half the point blank layups and dunk opportunities they had they win this game by double digits. The only bright spot is it demonstrates that yes it is indeed possible to out-execute a team trying to out-athleticise you. Good to know for tomorrow!

    But if there’s any justice in the world, Pitt drops 90+ on Butler Saturday.

    • UMQuasi

      Wow, a Butler Hater, there aren’t many of you out there. Most people love that team

  • billiam

    …there is no justice in the world…

  • bluerev

    Wow what homers we are… so far we’ve predicted 182 wins for UM to 11. I was among 20 crazies that predict UM wins by 10 or more (which alone nearly doubles people here predicting Vols to win).

    We’ve had so many close games and pressure situations, and Tenn is having all the Pearl swirl that I see a hot start opening a surprisingly easy game–withstanding that final Vol run… UM 71-59. Certainly not overconfident, just hopeful gutty feel.

  • MikeSal

    I worry about the guys coming out to excited. JB is right we need to grab rebounds especally the ones that are 50/50. If we can control them on the boards I feel like we have a great chance. Force UT to shoot 3’s and keep them from getting inside and this team pulls it off.

    Play with a controlled intensity and hit open shots and we should be fine.

    I hope everything works out for Coach Pearl and I certainly wish him the best.

    GO BLUE!

    • rlc

      The arena is going to be half-empty (many of the Duke and UNC fans won’t bother to show up for Michigan-Tennessee-Georgia-Washington); I worry more about players being sluggish than overexcited. I think the team that plays with the most intensity will win.

  • Michigan should take this one easily imo.

  • chris

    also extremely key: keep Morgan out of foul trouble

  • Alex

    Our guys have to control emotions and also keep the focus on this game. Can’t allow for distractions. Just have to play.

  • Fred_Ex

    I think Michigan has two major advantages. We are a good road team and a better shooting team. When you begin to factor in externalities like nervous or anxious players and neutral courts, I like the team whose better at jump shooting. A nervous team who’s shooting poorly can have an effect on other areas of the game. I’ve seen teams play over excited and start to force shots and drive the ball. The kicker is it tales confidence to finish at the rim. A team that’s nervous but making shots, is more likely to find a groove. Eventually the nerves will go away and it’s always better to then look up at the scoreboard with a lead. Great write up also. Couldn’t agree more with the 3 keys.

  • jmblue

    Tennessee’s in disarray with the Pearl situation. We’re peaking. Our mental toughness is key down the stretch and we gut out a 67-62 win.

    • billiam

      Who do you have hitting the FTs to put Tenn in their grave?