On Wednesday and Thursday, we will be breaking down all eight of the Sweet 16 matchups. Here is our look at No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 11 Tennessee:
WHEN: Friday, 7:15 p.m.
WHERE: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis (Midwest Region)
MAJOR STORY LINES: Tennessee fans did not want Cuonzo Martin anymore. They wanted Bruce Pearl back, and they wanted him so badly that an online petition to fire Cuonzo and hire Bruce collected more than 36,000 signatures. That looks silly now, as Martin has the Vols in the Sweet 16 with a really good chance to make it all the way to the Elite 8. His team now ranks No. 6 on KenPom. In other words, Tennessee has had a terrific year and it was barely enough to keep the good folks in Knoxville happy. That’s pretty wild.
KEY STATS: Michigan shoots 39.8% from beyond the arc and gets more than 34.9% of their points off of threes, which is 21st highest-rate nationally. It’s quite clearly a massive part of their powerhouse offensive attack, but Tennessee is one of the best teams in the country at chasing shooters off of the three-point line. On the other hand, the Vols are top five nationally in offensive rebounding percentage. Michigan isn’t bad on the defensive glass, but they are going to have to be much better than ‘not bad’ to keep Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon from getting second chance buckets.
KEY PLAYERS: I’ve written before and I’ll write it again: the most important matchup here is going to be the battle of the fours. Tennessee’s front line might as well be the Titans’ offensive line, as Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon are both about as strong and physical as an NFL left tackle. Michigan? When their best lineup is on the floor, Glenn Robinson III plays the four. What wins out? Can the Vols bully Michigan on the offensive glass enough that John Beilein is forced to use a bigger lineup, or will Robinson be able to capitalize on the advantages he will have over whoever Cuonzo Martin decides to put on him?
POINT SPREAD: Michigan (-2.5)
THREE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:
1. Who guards Nik Stauskas?: Josh Richardson is probably the best perimeter defender that Tennessee has on the roster, but the scouting report on defending Stauskas is to put a smaller guard on him, someone that can keep him from coming off of screens cleanly and that can prevent him from using his array of moves off the dribble. As good as Stauskas is, he hasn’t really developed his postgame to the point where he can capitalize on a size advantage. Will Martin use the smaller Antonio Barton to guard him?
2. Josh Richardson: Richardson is playing his bet basketball of the season right now. After missing his first five shots against Iowa in the First Four, he’s hit 20 of his last 28 from the floor and is averaging 19.3 points in the three tournament games. Jarnell Stokes is a hoss and Jordan McRae is probably Tennessee’s most talented player, but when the Vols have a tertiary scoring threat, they become that much more dangerous.
3. Jordan Morgan’s fouls: Maymon and Stokes both draw a ton of fouls. Jordan Morgan, Michigan’s best interior player, cannot get into foul trouble. It’s as simple as that.
CBT PREDICTION: Tennessee