NCAA 2014: Michigan vs. Tennessee Preview

Dylan Burkhardt
Who: No. 2 Michigan (27-8, 14-3 B1G) vs. No. 11 Tennessee (24-12, 11-7 SEC) Tennessee[1]
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN
When: 7:15 p.m., Friday, March 28th, 2014
Radio: MGoBlue, 950 AM, 102.9 FM, 92 Sirius, 191 XM
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It’s been a roller coaster ride of a season for Cuonzo Martin and the Tennessee Volunteers.

In the middle of February there was a petition to “Bring Back Bruce” that was signed by tens of thousands of Tennessee fans. Yes, the same Bruce Pearl that Michigan put of his misery with a 30 point trouncing in the NCAA tournament three years ago. Tennessee was 16-11 and .500 in an average SEC conference at that point and had just lost to Texas A&M for the second time. But just when the season looked all but over, the Vols turned things around.

Tennessee’s resurgence was fueled by wins over Mississippi St. (208), Vanderbilt (112), Auburn (128), Missouri (77) and South Carolina (113). The opposition hasn’t been great, but Tennessee has now won eight of it last nine games. The turnaround was undeniably assisted by the weak SEC, as Vols only beat one KenPom top-50 team in the regular season – Virginia by 35 (!) points at home. The late season wins were enough to earn Tennessee a trip to the First Four and that was all it needed. The Vols beat Iowa, UMass and Mercer in six days and now find themselves two wins away from the Final Four.

The Volunteers

Looking at Tennessee’s game-by-game efficiency margins, the story of its season becomes clear. Tennessee has a lot of blow out wins, very few blow out losses and turned on the afterburners in the last month. The polynomial trend line is of the third-order which allows for two bends or changes in direction.


So what changed for the Volunteers down the stretch? The defense has improved moderately as the season has worn on, but the offense has found another gear.


Tennessee’s offense relies on offensive rebounds and post-ups by Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon or gets out of the way and allows Jordan McRae to make something happen. The Vols aren’t a great shooting team — 50.3% on twos (94th), 31.9% on threes (282nd), 49.6 eFG% (170th) — but are the fourth best offensive rebounding team in the country. Similar to Texas, sometimes Tennessee’s best offense is a missed shot. The Vols aren’t great at getting to the free throw line (they were ranked 11th in free throw rate in the SEC) and their turnover numbers are mixed. On the season, Tennessee ranks 77th in turnover rate at 16.9%, but in SEC play the Vols gave the ball away on 18.3% of their possessions — only 9th best in the league.

Defensively, Tennessee is very good. The Vols allowed .97 points per trip in SEC play, 2nd best in the conference, and were the best in the league at grabbing defensive rebounds and not fouling. Tennessee manages to defend the rim without giving up free throws or threes. Vol opponents shoot just 44.3% on twos (40th) and only attempt 27.3% of their field goal attempts from three-point range (21st) while connecting at a 33.8% clip (139th). The one thing Tennessee doesn’t do is force turnovers, the Vols have only forced turnovers on 16.8% of their opponents’ possessions this season.


A lot of the pregame attention has been on Tennessee’s front court and how similar it is to the Texas team that Michigan faced on Saturday. That analysis omits one major difference between the two teams: Jordan McRae.

McRae is a far better wing player than anyone Texas had on its roster and he leads Tennessee in scoring and assists with 18.6 points and 2.5 assists per game. McRae uses 29% of Tennessee’s possessions, but he’s an effective volume scorer and doesn’t turn the ball over much.


Roughly a third of McRae’s production comes in the paint, but he’s also an above average shooter in the mid-range and from three-point range. McRae is a complete offensive player and he will be a chore for Michigan’s defense – notably Caris LeVert.

Down low, Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon present a formidable challenge on the low block. Mitch McGary referred to Stokes as a ‘fridge on wheels’ and he averages 15.2 points and 10.7 rebounds per game.


Stokes is a walking double-double – he’s reached that milestone in six of his last eight games – and has a size advantage over Jordan Morgan, who seems to relish these opportunities. In the NCAA tournament, Stokes has rebounded 19.7% of his team’s missed shots – by himself. Michigan’s entire team rebounded 29% of its misses in its first two NCAA tournament games (and for the season). Stokes isn’t just a good offensive rebounder, he’s a great one.

Maymon is a more limited offensive player – he’s not effective outside of five feet – but he’s almost as good of a rebounder as Stokes.

Glenn Robinson III’s size doesn’t quite matchup with Maymon’s 6-8, 260 pound frame, but both players will have their hands full to deal with the other’s skills.

Tennessee’s next best perimeter threat is Josh Richardson. Richardson averages 10.1 points per game and is more of a streaky offensive player – most recently he went for 26 points on 13 field goal attempts versus Mercer. He loves playing from the left-corner and into the mid-range.


Richardson is drawing more headlines for his defensively abilities. He’ll be tasked with guarding Nik Stauskas and sounds very confident.

“He’s just another player,” Richardson said of Stauskas. “I’ve been guarding guys like that for a while now. It’s nothing new.”


Antonio Barton is the fifth starter for the Vols, averaging 7.7 points and 2.1 assists per game. He’s not nearly as efficient, but is shooting over 40% from three in the month of March.

Tennessee isn’t deep, starters play 77% of available minutes and bench players have scored just 19 points in three NCAA tournament game despite all two of the three games being fairly lopsided.


Ball screens

Nik Stauskas admitted that he had no idea how Tennessee would guard Michigan’s ball screen offense, but this is the chess match that could decide Friday’s game. Michigan has the best pick and roll offense left in the tournament and the Wolverines are tough to beat when the ball screen game is clicking. Tennessee has a great defense, but the Vols don’t defend ball screens as well as some other teams left in the dance.


Tennessee doesn’t rank too favorably on this chart, but it’s worth noting that the Vols are slightly better than the Division I average in pick and roll defense – .86 points per ball screen allowed. The teams that are left in the NCAA tournament are all pretty good at defending ball screens, a big reason they are all around.

Beat Tennessee’s size with speed

Michigan isn’t going to be able to stop Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes completely. The duo is too big, too strong and too good. But just like Glenn Robinson III can’t guard Maymon on the low block, Maymon or Stokes shouldn’t be able to guard Robinson on the perimeter. Robinson is playing his best, most consistent basketball of the season over the last month, and he’ll have to exploit Maymon on the defensive end. That means off the dribble isolations, pick-and-pops, elbow jumpers and corner threes. Robinson has all of the tools in his arsenal and he’ll need to play an A-game offensively.

Win the foul battle

Both teams are good at minimizing fouls, but Tennessee has better personnel for drawing them. Stokes and Maymon draw 10.7 fouls per 40 minutes and both attempt over 60 free throws per 100 field goal attempts. Michigan doesn’t have the depth to deal with foul trouble, especially to Jordan Morgan, but Tennessee doesn’t have much depth either. Whichever team can keep its star big men on the floor will have the upper-hand.

Bottom Line

Despite the fact that Michigan is the 2 seed and Tennessee is the 11 seed, KenPom likes Tennessee by a final score of 66-65. Pomeroy’s odds give Michigan a 46% chance of advancing to the Elite Eight.

  • Mattski

    Hats of to you for all the great content this week–as ever–Dylan and Joe.

    We’ve won eight of our last nine too (nine of ten in fact), surely against much tougher competition. Play with poise and I think we win this one.

    • mikey_mac

      Yeah, the run UM has been on has been completely ignored because of the MSU game in BTT championship — the same team many then turned around and picked to win the entire NCAA tourney. By the way, three games in three days is a scenario that can only happen in conference tournaments.

  • Tony DeMaria

    Thought it was interesting that the only players who will play today that played in the 2011 2nd round game were Jeronne Maymon and Jordan McRae from Tennessee and of course Jordan Morgan for UM. McRae and Maymon played a combined 3 minutes and I think they probably wouldn’t have played if it wasn’t a blowout. Morgan played 19 minutes and had 10 points.

    • Willie Maize Hayes

      Actually Jon Horford played in the 2011 game for 1 minute with 1 rebound and 1 foul. He redshirted his sophomore year (2011-12) due to injury, I believe.

  • ShamrockCat

    Ken Pom likes Tennessee by 1 pt? lol – in other words, he has no clue and that’s why they play the game. I’ve seen “expert” commentary that Tennessee has “cruised” in 3 tourney games so far. Really? An OT win over Iowa is “cruising”? Tennessee is a good team, no doubt. They wouldn’t be here otherwise. Michigan has played good teams and had good success all year. I’m glad all the hype has been focused on Tennessee – we’ve been able to stay focused. I don’t see our guys letting us down. ShamrockCat says Michigan 74, Tennessee 70.

    • Tony DeMaria

      kenpom’s ‘prediction’ is based on his ratings system which has Tennessee as the 6th best team this year and UM as the ~11th. On a neutral court Tennessee is a slight favorite in their book, thus 1 point win. Not saying I agree, but that’s how his system works.

      • kam


      • ShamrockCat

        Understood – but none of these “systems” mean much when it comes to the tournament; there are too many intangibles. How did KenPom’s predictions turn out in last night’s games?

        • Bergs

          I don’t know what his computers predicted but based on his rankings I’m guessing they predicted an Arizona win, a Wisconsin win, a Florida win and probably a Stanford win (so 3/4 correct).

          • ShamrockCat

            My guess is he had Baylor winning, but I don’t know for sure. Florida and Arizona are #1 seeds – those were the easy picks. Just sayin. Who didn’t have them???

          • kam

            and many Analysts had SDSU upsetting Zona

          • PureMichigan

            Is this KenPom? Because you are a really, really, really big fanboy for someone whose last name isn’t “Pomeroy.”

          • Don

            No, he had Wisconsin winning.

          • rlcBlue

            Right, he had Stanford eight places ahead of Dayton before the game (and still two spots ahead of them afterwards). His system has the same love as always for Wisconsin, and Florida and Arizona are his #1 and #2 teams.

            Just for the record, tonight he picks UVa by 2, UConn by 1, Tennessee by 1, and Louisville by 5. In other words, two coin-flips, a mild endorsement, and a strong vote of confidence for the defending champs.

          • guestavo

            Who Pomeroy picks and what his statistical model projects are two different things.

          • rlcBlue

            Right; substitute his system for he and his in my post above.

        • kam

          his predictions are usually right actually.. i think he was perfect last night.

          • guestavo

            Ken Pomeroy said this on his blog

            “I’m really looking forward to that game. Probably more than anyone on the planet. But I think the Vols are going to struggle unless their 3-point shooting improves quite a bit. This is assuming they don’t grab 60% of their misses as they did against Mercer.”

        • kam

          im also not saying he will be right but he’s pretty respected for a reason.

  • Goblue14

    whats the uniform colors for tonight? I hope Tennessee wears their gray. not sure how the Michigan maize and the Tenn. orange will look on same court. Go Blue!!

  • mikey_mac

    Need to emphasize the foul situation here. Irvin may have a hard time finding minutes in this one, unless GR3 gets into foul trouble. Forcing either of UT’s bigs to the bench with fouls would be a huge advantage for us, especially on the glass. We’re just not equipped to handle both for long stretches. See Texas, second half, for example. Penetration from the perimeter (Stauskas, LeVert, GR3, Walton) seems like best bet to put that pressure on. Fortunately this team has lots of options there.

  • rlcBlue

    I don’t feel confident enough to make many predictions about the game – it could go either way, with a Michigan blowout win more likely than a Tennessee one, but a close game being the most likely scenario. I want to believe that our experience closing out tight games in Madison, East Lansing, Columbus, Lincoln, and Minneapolis will give us the advantage.

    Will the swarm of Kentuckians choose a side in our game? Will the UK fans go for SEC solidarity or against a rematch of a game they won? Will the UL fans reflexively oppose whatever the UK fans do? Have both sides bought into the UT hype and thus hope that Michigan will be an easier matchup for their team? We’ll see.

    • brooklyn_guy

      I would anticipate that both fanbases will be pulling for UT with the Kentucky folks being particularly partial since the Wildcats have already beaten the Vols. As much as UM has holes in its game, I don’t think anyone wants to face us as our ability from 3 means we can beat anybody on a given night.