5 Things We Learned from Michigan's Win over Tennessee
For 29 minutes, Michigan's Sweet 16 game against Tennessee followed a near-perfect script. The Wolverines hit their outside shots with consistency, played effective defense and were seemingly a half-step quicker than the Volunteers. Those factors allowed Michigan to build a 15-point lead.
However, the last 11 minutes could have been nightmarish. Tennessee found its stride—and its shooting eye—and cut the deficit to one point with 9.6 seconds remaining.
The Vols had the ball and a chance to win, but that's when Michigan's Jordan Morgan drew a charge from Jarnell Stokes. Instead of taking the lead, the Vols turned the ball over on the controversial call, and Michigan had its win after Nik Stauskas made a free throw and Tennessee's desperation heave fell short.
Here's a look at five things we learned Michigan's nail-biting victory.
Shooters Thriving as Stage Gets Bigger
The Wolverines have been an excellent shooting team all season long. But as the tournament progresses, the competition gets tougher, the pressure builds and success is not a given.
However, in the Sweet 16 win over Tennessee, the Wolverines came out firing and hitting from beyond the arc. If that sounds familiar, it's because they did the same thing in the round of 32 victory over Texas.
Michigan connected on seven of 11 three-point shots in the first half against the Vols and finished the game by making 11 of 20 shots from long distance. While the first inclination is to get the ball to Stauskas and have him fire away, freshman Zak Irvin was the Wolverines' most effective three-point shooter. He made all three of his attempts, and his success appeared to put the Tennessee defense back on its heels.
Stauskas made three of eight three-pointers, Derrick Walton Jr. made both of his attempts and Caris LeVert connected on two out of five long-distance shots.
We learned that increased pressure is not bothering the Wolverines' three-point shooters. If anything, it is bringing out their best effort.
Jordan Morgan Rises to Occasion
Jordan Morgan had an excellent all-around game for the Wolverines. The power forward led the team with 15 points and seven assists, but those numbers were not his biggest contributions.
He made the play of the game when he played defense against Tennessee power forward Jarnell Stokes in the game's final seconds.
With the Wolverines leading by one point, the Vols were poised to take the lead. Stokes got the ball after coming off a screen, and he made a direct line to the basket. Morgan knew what was coming, and he set his feet and lowered his shoulder before Stokes got to the same spot. He went down after Stokes made contact and the charging call was made.
“They set a screen for (Stokes) to come open, so I knew that the play was going to be for him. And I just know he likes to play bully ball; he’s in a stance ready,” Morgan said, via Rod Beard of the Detroit News. “I don’t know. I just was there. It’s just something I do. I take a charge — that’s what I do.”
Morgan's profile and effectiveness continue to grow in the NCAA tournament.
Robinson Handles the Challenge
Michigan appeared to have a size problem at the start of the game when Glenn Robinson III was forced to line up against Tennessee's powerful Jeronne Maymon.
Maymon, 6'8" and 260 pounds, had to have the kind of body that was going to give Robinson, 6'6" and 220 pounds, plenty of trouble. Once Maymon got the ball and started to drive, how was Robinson going to slow him down?
Robinson decided that size was not going to be an issue, because he played with toughness throughout the game. He won his battle decisively, scoring 13 points and coming up with five rebounds, while Maymon had just two points and three rebounds.
A battle that could have turned the tide in favor of Tennessee was a decisive Michigan victory.
“I knew they were going to try to attack me early, especially with me guarding him and they did that and I tried not to back down from the challenge," Robinson said, per Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press. “Be physical, I made him make tough twos. ... They had to sit him down because he couldn’t guard me on the offensive end.”
Blocked Shot Issues
The Wolverines may have survived and advanced against Tennessee, but they nearly gave away their lead in the final moments.
While Michigan was at its best at the start and did just enough in the final seconds to hold on to the win, it's very concerning when a team nearly blows a 15-point lead. One of the reasons that lead evaporated was the disparity in the blocked shots category.
The Vols had eight blocks in the game, while Michigan blocked just one. Jordan McRae dominated in that category for Tennessee. The 6'6" center-forward blocked four Wolverines shots and altered several others. Michigan's only block came from Morgan.
The team is going to have to do a better job of avoiding blocked shots in the future.
The Wolverines don't necessarily have a deep bench, but when head coach John Beilein taps Zak Irvin, Spike Albrecht or Jon Horford to go into the game, he does it with complete confidence.
He knows that any of those players can come into a game and make the contribution that turns momentum in the Wolverines' favor. Irvin turned out to be the hero against Tennessee. He made all three of his three-point attempts, and his shooting turned the game in Michigan's favor.
With Tennessee leading 21-20 at the midway point of the first half, Irvin made his first two three-pointers, and that triggered a 16-4 Michigan run. The Wolverines dictated the way the game was played from that point forward.
Irvin, a freshman from Indiana, was thrilled to make a contribution while playing in Indianapolis.
“Knocking down three threes in my home state felt great,” he told Snyder.
The performance showed Beilein that his bench is going to contribute significantly on the biggest stage.