Biggest Challenges Tennessee Faces vs. Michigan in Sweet 16 Matchup
Tennessee is having its best season under third-year coach Cuonzo Martin.
The Volunteers (24-12; 11-7 SEC) have won three games in this year's NCAA tournament. They look like a team that is coming together at the right time.
ESPN's Seth Greenberg said (Insider subscription required) that he is "extremely impressed with Tennessee."
Cuonzo Martin has done a great job through all of the speculation of getting his team on the same page and buying into what he has defined as Tennessee basketball: physical, tough defense and efficient offense on a team where everyone plays for one another.
They go up against Michigan (27-8; 15-3 Big Ten) in their Sweet 16 contest.
Here are the five biggest challenges the Vols face in their matchup with the Wolverines.
5. Frontline Foul Trouble
When either one of them gets into foul trouble, everything changes for Tennessee.
The Vols went 4-6 in games that Maymon was whistled for at least four fouls. They lost all four games that Stokes had four fouls or more.
The game against Michigan should not be a physical battle. But, the Wolverines could still try to take the ball into the lane and draw fouls, sending one of Tennessee's big men to the bench early.
4. Matching Up with Michigan's Perimeter-Based Lineup
These two teams are a study in opposites.
The Vols are a big, physical team that beat up their opponents with their size and strength. The Wolverines play four perimeter players who can slash, shoot and score.
If Tennessee can slow the tempo and pound the ball inside to Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon, then they can establish control early. But, if Michigan increases the pace, gets the game moving up and down the court and gets hot from beyond the arc, the Wolverines will hold the advantage.
Michigan coach John Beilein is a master at adapting his coaching strategy to the personnel on his roster. This year is a perfect example of how he maximizes and blends the talent of his team.
Something's gotta give. Someone's style of play will be a plus.
3. Consistency from Antonio Barton
As good as the Vols are playing, they need more consistent production from senior guard Antonio Barton.
Barton had an exceptional game against Mercer in the round of 32, scoring 18 points (hitting 4-of-9 from beyond the arc), grabbing four rebounds and pinching two steals. But, in Tennessee's second-round game against UMass, the Baltimore native did not score, missed all five of his three-point attempts and only grabbed one rebound.
Barton had a terrible SEC tournament, scoring three points, grabbing four rebounds and handing out four assists in two games. However, in Tennessee's last three regular-season contests, he averaged 18 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists.
Coach Martin needs Barton to bring his best against Michigan. A mediocre game from the senior guard could spell trouble for Tennessee.
2. Hitting Shots from Beyond the Arc
Tennessee has won three straight NCAA games without doing much damage from beyond the arc. The Vols have shot 22.8 percent (13-of-57) from three-point range during March Madness.
Martin's squad has not shot well from distance all season (32.6 percent; No. 264 in the nation). Senior wing Jordan McRae is the team's best beyond-the-arc shooter, knocking down 35.9 percent of his threes this year. But, McRae has only shot 6-of-32 (18.8 percent) over the Vols' last six games.
Their further struggle is not going to make this game against Michigan any easier.
If the Vols do not connect from downtown against the Wolverines, watch for UM's Beilein to pack the lane and allow the Volunteers to fire away.
1. Stopping Michigan's Beyond-the-Arc Shooters
As much as Tennessee struggles shooting the ball from deep, the Wolverines are one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country.
Michigan hit 39.8 percent (No. 8 in the nation) of their threes this season, and they are doing even better so far in March Madness. In their two opening games, the Wolverines have knocked down 46.6 of their shots from beyond the arc.
Sophomore guard Nik Stauskas has hit 45.1 percent of his three-point shots this season. He has continued his torrid shooting during the NCAA tournament (7-of-15).
Tennessee will need to work hard at running Michigan shooters off the three-point line. If the Vols do not keep the Wolverines' long-distance shooters under wraps, Beilein's bunch could build a big lead early.