Caris LeVert (AP Photo)

Sweet 16 Preview: No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 11 Tennessee

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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:

RELATED: Sweet 16 Power Rankings | Top 16 Players | Eight Critical Individual Matchups

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.

SWEET 16 PREVIEWS: Stanford-Dayton Wisconsin-Baylor | Florida-UCLA | Arizona-SDSU

Iowa State-UConn | Michigan-Tennessee | Virginia-Michigan State | Louisville-Kentucky

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)


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.


POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.