|Who: Tennessee (19-14) vs. Michigan (20-13)|
|Where: Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte, NC|
|When: 12:40 PM ET, Friday, March 18th|
|TV: TruTV / Streaming /|
|Radio: MGoBlue / WTKA 1050 AM|
|More NCAA Tournament Coverage|
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.