Here’s some good news and then some good news and then some bad-ish news. The good news: Michigan is in the Sweet 16 for the second straight year. The other good news: Michigan is now the highest seed in the Midwest region. The bad-ish news: Games from here on out will probably be really tough. Teams that make it to the Sweet 16 usually have one of three things going for them; they are either really good, playing really well, or getting very lucky. In part one we discussed the teams that Michigan would potentially have to play to make another run to the Sweet 16. Now that Michigan is there, it’s time to talk about the opponents that are standing between the Wolverines and another tip to the Final 4.
Sweet 16 opponent: Tennessee
Colors: Orange and White
Should Michigan beat them: Either yes or no, maybe both
On one hand you have a team that finished 11-7 in a pretty bad SEC conference and barely squeaked into the tournament. On the other hand you have a team that is ranked 6th in the KenPom rankings and blew out their last two opponents on their way to the Sweet 16. Tennessee is a difficult team to figure out. They are kind of like Texas if Texas shot the ball a little bit better. Their offense revolves around chucking the ball in the vicinity of the hoop and then letting their big guys grab the ball off the glass. Big man Jarnell Stokes and guard Jordan McRae do most of the scoring for the volunteers, averaging almost 34 points a game combined. Stokes is also a beast on the glass, grabbing more than 10 boards a game. Mcrae is a big guard who can score inside and out, evidenced by his shooting a respectable 36% from deep this season. Tennessee is tough on D also, and do a good job of stopping their opponents from hitting a lot of threes.
Key to winning:
Just like with Texas, Michigan has to be very active on the glass, both defensively and offensively. Tennessee has a lot of big bodies and generate a lot of their baskets off of their own missed shots. The Wolverines will also have to work hard to get good looks at the hoop. Tennessee has some length on the perimeter which will make it difficult for the Michigan shooters to get their shots off. Stauskas and the boys will have to work hard to get open shots from the perimeter.
Colors: Red and White/Blue and White
Should Michigan beat them: Coin Flip
Let’s begin with the higher seed.
Louisville entered the NCAA the tournament as one of the favorites to bring home the trophy, even though they are only a four seed. The ran through the AAC conference tournament without much resistance and are currently one of the hottest teams in the country. The Rick Petino led Cardinals have a stifling defense and very efficient offense led by senior guard Russ Smith. Smith averages 18.1 points per game and shoots almost 40% from three. He is joined by Luke Hancock, who Michigan fans remember from last year’s championship game, and 6’8 sophomore Montrezl Harrell. Louisville is a very deep team as well, having 9 players who average 14 minutes a game or more.
Key to winning:
Spike needs to hit 10 threes this time. Just kidding (kind of). At this point of the season the key to every Michigan game is going to come down to whether or not Michigan is hitting from outside. If they are, Michigan can beat any team in the country. It’s just a matter of taking care of the ball, which they usually do, and getting good looks from three. John Beilein is a master of creating game plans for each opponent, and he’ll have to be on his game for Michigan to return to the Final Four.
Kentucky is a super young (duh), super athletic team with dangerous players at practically every position. Their rotation consists primarily of 6 freshmen and a sophomore. Julius Randle leads the Wildcats in scoring and rebounding. Rochester, Michigan product James Young and twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison also contribute in the scoring column. Sophomore(!) giant Willi Cauey-Stein gets most of the minutes at the center position, and averages seven points and just over six rebounds a contest.
Key to winning:
The cool thing about freshman basketball players is that they like to do freshman basketball player things. Things like turn the ball over a lot and take bad shots. Michigan needs to stay disciplined on defense and make Kentucky work for their buckets. This is a situation where Michigan’s tournament experience could prove beneficial as the bright lights may cause the young Wildcats to try to do too much. I actually think Michigan would prefer to play these guys.
There you go. Should Michigan make it to the Final Four, I’ll release a part three of this series. Tennessee will be a tough game that Vegas is basically calling a coin flip at this point. A rematch with Louisville would be intriguing, but so would playing the dynamic Kentucky Wildcats. Michigan has to continue knocking down threes and stay consistent on the glass if they want to make it to North Texas for the Final Four.