We discussed some of these points with Thomas Beindit of SB Nation's Big Ten Powerhouse and Michigan's 247 site on our podcast last night. Off the cuff there are some similarities between Friday's date with the Wolverines and our last appearance in the Sweet 16 in 2010: a pair of Big Ten two seeds with an All-American scorer leading three others in double figures and a tight eight man rotation. Both times the Vols made the Sweet 16 by disposing of a 14 seed in the Round of 32 after they did the dirty work of upsetting the 3 seed in the Round of 64. And it was Tennessee's massive rebounding advantage that helped the Vols upset Ohio State four years ago, certainly a Volunteer strength again this season.
Michigan's Nik Stauskas may not go off for 31 on the Vols the way Evan Turner did, but he is definitely a weapon the Vols have to focus on. The 6'6" sophomore averages 17.4 points and 3.3 assists, and is shooting 45.1% from the arc this season. Put into context, Chris Lofton's best individual season was 43.7% in 2006. Lofton was a little more of a volume shooter, but that's in part because Michigan has so many other weapons to go to, hence Stuaskas also picking up a handful of assists every night.
There's some truth to Michigan going as its best player goes, but only some. Here are his numbers in Michigan's eight losses:
- at Iowa State 77-70: 8 of 18 (4 of 10 3PT), 20 points
- vs Charlotte 63-61: 6 of 13 (1 of 5 3PT), 20 points
- at Duke 79-69: 0 of 2 (0 of 1 3PT), 4 points
- vs Arizona 72-70: 4 of 11 (1 of 4 3PT), 14 points
- at Indiana 63-52: 1 of 6 (0 of 2 3PT), 6 points
- at Iowa 85-67: 3 of 6 (1 of 3 3PT), 10 points
- vs Wisconsin 75-62: 4 of 11 (0 of 2 3PT), 11 points
- vs Michigan State 69-55: 4 of 14 (3 of 5 3PT), 17 points
- TOTAL IN LOSSES: 30 of 81 (37.0%), 10 of 32 3PT (31.3%), 12.8 points
- SEASON AVERAGE: 47.3% FG, 45.1% 3PT, 17.4 points
Stauskas had missed the game before Duke with an ankle injury, which explains some of the mystery there even though he still played 34 minutes in that game. After Stauskas scored 26 against Iowa in Ann Arbor, the Hawkeyes made it their business to take him away in the return match, and it worked:
"They made a lot of adjustments," Stauskas said. "They did things on our ball screens and handoffs, which made things difficult. They denied me the ball and when I did try to drive all their guys were in the gaps."
The good news is Tennessee has been strong against perimeter shooting all year and should be able to actively switch well enough to contest some of what Michigan wants to do. For in-depth reading on how Iowa slowed Stauskas and the entire Michigan offense, check out this analysis from Black Heart Gold Pants.
Again, it may be too simple, but Michigan is 5-4 when Stauskas hits no more than one three and 22-4 when he hits two or more.
Those 3.3 assists are made easier by Caris LeVert and Glenn Robinson III, both averaging 13.1 points per game. LeVert is the second best shooter on the team at 41.0% from the arc. Robinson hits just 28.6% from three but will still put it up, averaging an even three attempts per game. Thomas Beindit shared on our podcast that Michigan is 44-5 in the last two years when Robinson scores double figures.
All three of these guys go 6'6", though Robinson has a bigger game with more inside scoring. Tennessee's length on the perimeter will certainly be challenged on both ends of the floor. Stauskas has hit 20+ points 13 times this year, but the other guys are equally capable of hurting you: LeVert hit 20+ seven times, Robinson four times.
6'1" freshman Derrick Walton Jr. facilitates the offense, and another 6'6" player in freshman Zak Irvin gives the Wolverines solid minutes off the bench. Both of these guys also shoot 41% from the arc, giving Michigan four players shooting 40+% from three in their rotation. You cannot take possessions off defensively, even when the Wolverines go to their bench. As a team the Wolverines shoot 40.2% from the arc, seventh best in all of college basketball.
Without Mitch McGary senior Jordan Morgan has gotten a ton of minutes inside at 6'8" 250. Morgan had one double-double all year, then dropped two in the NCAA Tournament with a 10/10 against Wofford and an impressive 15/10 against Texas. He can't be ignored, though it'll be interesting to see how successful he is against Tennessee's bigs inside.
There's always a luck component when you play a team built so much around three point shooting. Michigan has shot as well as 69.6% from the arc this year (16 of 23 vs Illinois) and as poorly as 21.7% (5 of 23 vs Charlotte), which proves a style like this can lose to just about anyone when the shots don't fall. The Vols aren't just about anyone, but Michigan is 16-1 when shooting 38% or better from the arc, the lone loss coming to #1 Arizona by two points when the Wolverines shot 47.1% from three on 8 of 17. The Vols have given up 38% or better from the arc 13 times this year and are, predictably, 5-8 in those games. But the Vols also allowed fewer threes than any team in the SEC this year. In this case the low-hanging fruit is ripe: how Tennessee defends the three will have a major impact on their ability to beat Michigan.