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Tale of the tape

Round Of 16 Matchup: #11 Tennessee Vs. #2 Michigan

By Michael Ferro

Michigan has yet to face a formidable foe in the tournament, and though many didn’t expect to see Tennessee make the Sweet 16, they’ve proven that they’re worth watching after downing the Duke-killers in Mercer.

(credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) (credit: Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
(credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) (credit: Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)

#11 Tennessee

#2 Michigan

Volunteers coach Cuonzo Martin led a formidable attack against a decent UMass team, but UMass was given a gracious seed into the tournament. Mercer was tougher, and Cuonzo proved he can keep his team poised even for a Sweet 16 berth. Coaching Wolverines coach John Beilein is the sixth-active coach with 700 career wins after Michigan’s win over Texas in the last round. Since taking over the program in 2007, Beilein has completely turned the team around and even been named by Bleacher Report as “the most creative coach in college basketball.” After going 31-8 in 2013, the Wolverines fell to Louisville in the NCAA National Championship, but by that point, Beilein and his Wolverines had proved they could ball with the big boys.
The Volunteers proved it wasn’t a fluke that they won in the first round by crushing Mercer 83-63. Jarnell Stokes was once again incredible, scoring 17 points against the Bears and earning a career-high-tying 18 rebounds (Mercer as a whole had only 19 rebounds). Junior guard Josh Richardson stepped up in a huge way and netted a career-high 26 points, with 16 of those coming with only 2:38 left in the first half. Offense Texas had a distinct inside advantage over Michigan in their last round match up, so the Wolverines answered with one of their best shooting performances of the season, netting an incredible 14 three-pointers. Nik Stauskas, who led Michigan against the Longhorns with 17 points and eight assists, shot four of those three-pointers and has been electric thus far in the tourney. As a whole, the Wolverines only turned the ball over four times against Texas, its second-fewest this season and a key element for the Michigan offense’s success.
Tennessee had no trouble making short work of Mercer’s offense, shutting them out in a number of ways and out-rebounding the Bears 41-19. Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon was able to reduce the Bears into a jump-shooting team, allowing Mercer to just one offensive rebound in the first half. Michigan isn’t Mercer, but much of what the Vols did to the Bears will translate well to the Wolverines. John Richardson’s play on defense will be key for both teams. Defense Michigan’s defense has yet to be tested in the Big Dance, but they should get a handful with Tennessee. The Wolverines held opponents to just 64.9 points in the regular season, but they were abysmal in rebounds, blocks and steals per game, ranking 237th, 298th, and 276th, respectively on the national scales.
The Vols are clearly led by big time scorer Jordan McRae, who makes shots happen when little seems available, and is backed up solidly by fellow senior Jeronne Maymon and junior Josh Richardson. Add in the likes of Jarnell Stokes and Antonio Barton, and you’ve got a great starting lineup, but Tennessee’s bench is shallow otherwise. If the Volunteers starting lineup isn’t on top of its game, they’re in trouble. Bench Depth Like Tennessee, Michigan’s starting lineup is stacked with talent, but the difference in this match up will be the Wolverines ability to throw in players from the likes of guards Spike Albrecht and Zak Irvin, who can change the feel of a game off the bench.

The winner is

(credit: Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
#2 Michigan
3 out of 4

Michigan has been lucky to coast along throughout the tournament thus far, but the Volunteers are hot and streaking at the perfect moment to take an unprepared Wolverines team by storm. Still, Michigan’s potent 3-point offense can be tough to overcome if Stauskas has as good a game, as many predict he will.

Michael Ferro is freelance writer and a graduate of Michigan State University where he majored in creative writing and received the Jim Cash Creative Writing Award. Born and bred in Detroit, he currently resides in near Ann Arbor, MI. Additional writing can be found at Examiner.com.

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