The time has finally arrived. Granted, it’s a year earlier than I would have thought, but the Wolverines will take on Tennessee at 12:40 on truTV. The Volunteers are another team that has to be considered an overachiever this season. Tennessee are at 19-14 (8-8 in the SEC) and are coming off a loss to Florida in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament. The Wolverines stand at 20-13 (9-9 in the Big Ten) and lost their last game to Ohio State in the Big Ten Semi-finals. Once again, Tennessee holds a large advantage in the “talent” department.
The Volunteers only have two frontcourt players of note. Freshman forward Tobias Harris is a former McDonald’s All-American who is currently second on the team in scoring and second in rebounds at 15.2 and 7.3 respectively. At 6’8’’ 228lbs, he presents match-up problems for Michigan. I think Novak can slow him down, but he should still get his numbers. Manning the middle for UT is 6’10’’ 272lber, senior Brian Williams. Williams leads the Vols in rebounding and scored 7 ppg. Other than those two, they deploy tall guard/forward types. You will also see forwards like Steven Pearl, John Fields, and Renaldo Woolridge. They are role players that all averaged less than 12 minutes and 3 points per game.
The backcourt is also pretty cut and dry. There are three players of note and a bunch of “other: guys. We will start with their best player, Scotty Hopson. The junior is the leading scorer and third leading rebounder. He has the type of game that allows him to get his shot off whenever he wants. He is a future pro, and might want to make this his last college game. Michigan can’t allow him to go crazy. He’s 6’7’’ and 210 pounds, so maybe Hardaway Jr. can stay in front of him. He was only held to single digits 3 times this season, and they went 1-2 in those games. It’s safe to say that I am high on him.
The other two guards are 6’6’’ Cameron Tatum and 5’11’’ Melvin Goins. Tatum is a streaky player who has scored as high as 21 points, and was twice held scoreless. He struggled with t=his 3-point shot this year which probably explains his streakiness. He shot 38.9% from 3 last year, but only 27.7% this year. Hopefully Douglass can keep a hand in his face. Goins is their point guard, and vocal leader. He is a senior who spent his freshman year at Ball State. He is a pass first pg, who has ranged from 0 to 19 points this season. His job is to get the ball to Hopson and Harris, don’t turn the ball over, and hit open jumpers when teams double Hopson and Harris.
Other guards are former walk-ons Josh Bone and Skylar McBee and freshmen Trae Golden and Jordan McRae. Again, there is depth, but there is clearly a line between Hopson, Tatum, and Goins, and the rest.
Along with Hopson (and possibly Harris) Vols head coach Bruce Pearl could be making his final appearance for UT. He has already been suspended for 8 games this season, and could be facing more trouble once their season has concluded. Legal issues aside, Pearl is a talented coach. He is no stranger to deep tournament runs, and guided Tennessee to a 9 seed this year after losing 3 starters. The question becomes whether the spotlight is on Pearl’s wrong-doings, or his team.
Tennessee is a team that relies heavily on their starting 5. They all average at least 7 points a game. No one else averages more than 3.3. If Hardaway and Morris can get to the rim and draw fouls, their depth can become a concern. They have capable players, but no bench players that scare you. Not allowing Hopson to score 30 will be another key. Doubling him and forcing Goins to hit open shots is probably the best way to attack them. I’m sure 33 other coaches had this game plan, and he still scored 17 and a half a game.
Almost every prognosticator I have seen has picked Tennessee. After doing a little research, I’m not sure why. They are talented to be sure, but if one or two players get into early foul trouble, what do they have. I’m wary about picking Michigan, since I didn’t expect them to be here this season and I’m still not sure how they got awarded an 8 seed. If Michigan can hit its threes, this game won’t be close. I will predict a close game, with Hopson keeping the Vols in it. I have Duke winning it all anyway, so whoever wins will be One and Done.