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Sam’s 3 thoughts: Kentucky

March 30th, 2014 by Sam Sedlecky


Michigan-Kentucky header_NCAAT_1

With one game between Michigan and a second straight Final Four, eyes are starting to turn toward the Wolverine program. Again, however, it will be Michigan’s opponents that are more hyped up by the media. After squeaking by a resurgent Tennessee team following a bevy of late uncharacteristic blunders, the Wolverines will now face John Calipari’s freshmen-laden Kentucky Wildcats at 5:05 on CBS in a game that looks remarkably similar to Friday’s on paper.

The Wildcats, who usually start four freshmen and a sophomore, will likely be without 7’0″ behemoth Willie Cauley-Stein down low after he suffered an ankle injury in a surprise win over Louisville, but still possess loads of talent on a shortened bench. Here are my three thoughts on how Michigan can advance to Dallas next weekend.

Mix it Up Defensively: For the past two games in the NCAA Tournament, Michigan has matched up with much bigger teams that make a living on the offensive glass. Both Texas and Tennessee ranked in the top 10 this season in offensive rebounding and were happy to bang with anyone down low and get points off easy put-backs, and each team had a fair amount of success in grabbing those offensive boards. But Michigan’s defense was just good enough to hold on to victories, and at this point in the season, any win is a celebratory one.

Much like the Longhorns and Volunteers, the Wildcats also struggle to shoot from three-point range, making just 32.6 percent from distance on the year, and Michigan will look to take advantage of that weakness by mixing in a healthy amount of 1-3-1 zone defense. Without Cauley-Stein’s size and rebounding prowess on the floor, Kentucky shouldn’t be as difficult to deal with on their own misses, and the Wolverines should be able to force some bad shots and a few turnovers against an undisciplined squad with that 1-3-1.

Julius Randle will be the third straight dominant big man Jordan Morgan has faced in the tournament (Chet White, UK Athletics)

Julius Randle will be the third straight dominant big man Jordan Morgan has faced in the tournament (Chet White, UK Athletics)

As soon as Kentucky’s freshman sensation, Julius Randle, starts getting some put-backs, however, it will be back to man-to-man, where Jordan Morgan will be asked to shine once again. Michigan’s senior, thriving off of widespread doubt, has been exceptional in the tournament with 40 points, 27 rebounds, four steals, four assists, and two blocks in three games. An equally productive game today should see Michigan on top at the end.

Battle Julius Randle: Julius Randle, just one star recruit in a line of freshmen head-turners to play for John Calipari, is easily the best of the baby Wildcat bunch this year. Measuring in at 6’9″ and 250 pounds, Randle has been a load for every team to handle this season, and with averages of 15.1 points and 10.7 rebounds, the Dallas native will be looking to play in front of a home crowd next weekend before likely going in the top three of this year’s NBA Draft.

Riding a wave of three straight double-doubles to add to his whopping 23 on the season (those three included), Randle is a joy to watch for the unbiased viewer but a nightmare for the opponent. Randle is one of those rare wide bodies that moves so effortlessly in the paint, and even with his size, he is incredibly gifted on his feet, possesses excellent hands, and takes on double teams with ease.

When battling one-on-one this evening with the freshman, senior Jordan Morgan may have a few tricks up his sleeve with his leg up in the experience department, but he will certainly be challenged. If Randle goes off for 20 points and 15 rebounds, Michigan will be hard-pressed to pull out a win, but if Morgan can hold Randle somewhat in check with some help from double teams and zone looks, the Wolverines’ magical run will continue.

Win the Turnover War: Michigan and Kentucky, besides their collective youth, are about as opposite as you can be on the basketball court. Michigan runs a smart, precise, and calculating offense designed to get open looks for its stable of shooters and easy lay-ups when defenses cheat while maximizing possessions without giving up fast break buckets. In a sentence, the Wolverines try to win by taking advantage of their strengths and minimizing mistakes.

Kentucky, on the other hand, runs Calipari’s vague “dribble-drive” offense that is akin to superstar NBA play. Calipari runs very few plays and relies on his ultra-talented squad to create, create, and then create some more. The Wildcats operate on the presumption that their skill and isolation style will trump most teams simply because they have better players, and their extremely low 45.1 assist rate (assists per 100 made field goals) reflects that. Michigan’s 56.0 assist rate, on the other hand, is the perfect contrast in style.

With these differences should also come an advantage for the Maize and Blue in the turnover department. John Beilein’s teams are famed for taking care of the ball while Calipari teams generally struggle in that department. This season, the Wolverines’ 14.9 turnover rate ranks 18th in the country while Kentucky’s 18.3 mark is merely pedestrian. In the tournament, Michigan has had some uncharacteristic turnovers woes, however, with four straight late giveaways against Tennessee and 11 total in a somewhat sloppy win over Wofford.

Today, Michigan needs to take special care of the ball and make Kentucky earn their points while running every time the Wildcats hand the ball over. Pay special attention to freshman point guard Andrew Harrison, who has been bipolar in dishing out some incredible assists while also coughing it up at a brutal 23.5 turnover rate.

Prediction: Kentucky’s athleticism and skill could pose some problems early on for a Michigan team that struggles to keep dynamic driving guards out of the lane, but I think Beilein will have the brains and the players on the court to weather any storm and shoot the Wildcats out of the gym. The 1-3-1 defense should see the floor often and Nik Stauskas will again the lead the way with his hot shooting. If Jordan Morgan and Glenn Robinson III play tough and produce, Michigan will dance to Dallas. In the end, I think they will, with a 78-72 win.

Michigan hoops preview: Kentucky

March 30th, 2014 by Justin Potts


Michigan vs Kentucky banner
#7/8 (2-seed) Michigan (28-8, 15-3) vs (8-seed) Kentucky (27-10, 12-6)
Sunday, Mar. 30 | Indianapolis, Ind. | 5:05 p.m. EST | CBS
Offense
74.0 Points/gm 75.4
(918-1,925) 47.7 Field Goal % 45.1 (926-2,052)
(312-776) 40.2 3-pt FG % 32.6 (189-579)
(516-677) 76.2 Free Throw % 68.6 (748-1,090)
14.3 FT Made/gm 20.2
31.6 Reb/gm 40.8
14.3 Assists/gm 11.3
9.4 Turnovers/gm 12.2
Defense
64.8 Points/gm 66.5
(874-1,977) 44.2 Field Goal % 40.8 (861-2,111)
(194-621) 31.2 3-pt FG % 31.8 (201-632)
31.1 Opp. Reb/gm 31.0
5.2 Steals/gm 4.8
2.4 Blocks/gm 6.1
Individual Leaders
N. Stauskas (17.3), G. Robinson III (13.1) Points/gm Julius Randle (15.1), James Young (14.1)
Jordan Morgan (5.0), LeVert/Robinson (4.4) Reb/gm Julius Randle (10.7), W. Cauley-Stein (6.1)

___________________________________________________________________________________

For the second straight season Michigan is one of just eight teams remaining, battling it out for the national title. The Wolverines built a big lead on Friday night and then survived a furious Tennessee comeback to top the Vols 73-71. Now, Michigan gets another SEC team, and one of the most storied programs in college basketball, the Kentucky Wildcats, for a trip to the Final Four.

Kentucky entered the season with expectations so high that a group of fans printed “40-0″ t-shirts. Hopes of an undefeated season lasted just three games as the Wildcats fell to Michigan State by four in the Champions Classic. They then lost to Baylor and North Carolina to enter conference play with a 10-3 record. 

Related
M&GB March Madness Five-Spot Challenge: Kentucky
Inside the Numbers: Previewing the Midwest Regional — Louisville/UK edition

But that’s where things got interesting. In January, Kentucky lost in overtime to Arkansas and then fell to LSU. Florida came into Rupp Arena and won by 10, and after a win over Ole Miss and an overtime victory over LSU, the Wildcats lost three of their next four — an overtime loss to Arkansas, at South Carolina, and  by 19 to Florida. Suddenly, the undefeated hopefuls were six games behind the Gators in the SEC. 

Kentucky topped LSU and Georgia in the first two rounds of the SEC Tournament and battled Florida for the championship, but fell by one. They were given a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament and a first round matchup with Kansas State. The Wildcats won by seven, but the reward was a showdown with unbeaten No. 1 seed Wichita State. In what was perhaps the best game of the tournament so far, Kentucky outlasted the Shockers 78-76 and moved on to the Sweet Sixteen for a rematch with rival Louisville. 

On Friday night, Louisville jumped out to a sizable lead and maintained it for most of the game, but Kentucky remained within striking distance. The Wildcats finally took their first lead of the game with just 1:27 to play and then held on to beat the Cardinals 74-69. 

The Cats entered the season the clear-cut No. 1, suffered some growing pains throughout the season to the point they were almost written off, and now find themselves as perhaps the most dangerous team remaining in the tournament. That’s who Michigan gets to face on Sunday evening in Indianapolis. Let’s take a look at the Wildcats.

The Starters
Minutes Points FG% 3FG% FT% Reb Ast TO Blk Stl
Julius Randle (F) 30.8 15.1 50.1 16.7 70.8 10.7 1.4 2.6 0.8 0.5
James Young (G) 32.1 14.1 40.1 33.9 68.9 4.2 1.7 1.9 0.2 0.8
Aaron Harrison (G) 32.4 14.1 42.3 34.6 79.8 3.0 1.9 1.6 0.3 1.1
Andrew Harrison (G) 31.5 11.1 37.6 35.6 76.8 3.1 3.9 2.7 0.2 0.5
Dakari Johnson (C) 13.5 5.0 56.3 00.0 46.1 3.9 0.2 0.6 0.6 0.2
The Others
Minutes Points FG% 3FG% FT% Reb Ast TO Blk Stl
W. Cauley-Stein (F) 23.8 6.8 59.6 00.0 48.2 6.1 0.7 0.8 2.9 1.2
Alex Poythress (F) 18.1 5.8 47.9 25.8 64.9 4.5 0.4 1.0 0.8 0.3
Dominique Hawkins (G) 8.5 0.8 26.7 12.5 45.5 0.7 0.4 0.2 0.0 0.1

 For a detailed breakdown of Kentucky’s personnel and statistics read Drew’s Inside the Numbers: Previewing the Midwest Regional — Louisville and Kentucky post. 

The Schedule
Date Opponent Score
Nov. 8 UNC Asheville W 89-57
Nov. 10 Northern Kentucky W 93-63
Nov. 12 #2 Michigan State* L 74-78
Nov. 17 Robert Morris W 87-49
Nov. 19 Texas-Arlington W 105-76
Nov. 25 Cleveland State W 68-61
Nov. 27 Eastern Michigan W 81-63
Dec. 1 Providence# W 79-65
Dec. 6 #20 Baylor# L 62-67
Dec. 10 Boise State W 70-55
Dec. 14 at #18 North Carolina L 77-82
Dec. 21 Belmont W 93-80
Dec. 28 #6 Louisville W 73-66
Jan. 8 Mississippi State W 85-63
Jan. 11 at Vanderbilt W 71-62
Jan. 14 at Arkansas L 85-87 OT
Jan. 18 Tennessee W 74-66
Jan. 21 Texas A&M W 68-51
Jan. 25 Georgia W 79-54
Jan. 28 at LSU L 82-87
Feb. 1 at Missouri W 84-79
Feb. 4 Ole Miss W 80-64
Feb. 8 at Mississippi State W 69-59
Feb. 12 at Auburn W 64-56
Feb. 15 #3 Florida L 59-69
Feb. 18 at Ole Miss W 84-70
Feb. 22 LSU W 77-76 OT
Feb. 27 Arkansas L 67-71 OT
Mar. 1 at South Carolina L 67-72
Mar. 4 Alabama W 55-48
Mar. 8 at #1 Florida L 65-84
Mar. 14 LSU^ W 85-67
Mar. 15 Georgia^ W 70-58
Mar. 16 #1 Florida^ L 60-61
Mar. 21 (9) Kansas State+ W 56-49
Mar. 23 (1) Wichita State+ W 78-76
Mar. 28 (4) Louisville+ W 74-69
*Champions Classic, ^SEC Tournament, +NCAA Tournament

Kentucky 4 factors

The Series

Michigan is 2-4 all-time against Kentucky. The last time the two storied programs met was in the 1993 Final Four which Michigan won 81-78 in overtime. The only other NCAA Tournament meeting was in the 1996 Midwest Regional Final, which Kentucky won 84-77. Michigan won the first ever meeting on Dec. 20, 1924 by a score of 21-11 in Lexington, while Kentucky won 96-79 on Dec. 2, 1967 in Ann Arbor; 112-104 on Dec. 20, 1968 in Lexington; and 104-93 on Dec. 5, 1970 in Lexington. 

While Michigan has experience playing in Indianapolis, this will mark the second game Michigan has played at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Wolverines are 10-9 all-time in Indianapolis, but all 18 games prior to Friday night’s win over Tennessee, including three this season, were at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (formerly Conseco Fieldhouse) in the Big Ten Tournament. 

The M&GB March Madness Five-Spot Challenge: Kentucky

March 29th, 2014 by Justin Potts


M&GB March Madness Five-Spot Challenge banner

Michigan survived a late scare and beat Tennessee on Friday night to advance to the Elite Eight for the second straight season. That means the prize for the March Madness Five-Spot Challenge will go up to at least a $40 M Den gift card when the Wolverines face Kentucky on Sunday.

Bluwolf77 had the best score for the Tennessee game with a deviation of just 16. He correctly predicted that Michigan’s first three-pointer would come 124 seconds into the game, and that’s ultimately what got him the lowest deviation. HTTV134 maintains his lead for the overall prize, but it has narrowed to one over Maizenblu62. It’s still anyone’s game, especially if the Wolverines continue to advance.

Below are the results and updated standings. Remember, this is a cumulative contest that runs for as long as Michigan remains in the tournament.

March Madness Five-Spot Challenge Standings
Place Name Wofford Deviation (pts) Texas Deviation (pts) Tenn. Deviation (pts) Total
1 HTTV134 21 (10) 21 (9) 61 (8) 103 (27)
2 Maizenblu62 25 (9) 41 (4) 27 (13) 93 (26)
3 BigHouseBrandon 36 (5) 17 (10) 92 (5) 145 (20)
3 kfarmer16 37 (4) 41 (4) 29 (12) 107 (20)
3 bluwolf77 * 28 (6) 16 (14) 44* (20)
6 JustJeepGear.com 48 (1) 21 (9) 53 (9) 122 (19)
7 GregGoBlue * 26 (7) 36 (11) 62* (18)
8 Jim Mackiewicz 29 (7) 36 (5) 125 (2) 190 (14)
9 TexasWolverine 28 (8) 53 (1) 129 (1) 210 (10)
9 bigred * * 37 (10) 37* (10)
11 spooner_21 38 (3) 47 (2) 112 (3) 197 (8)
12 kashkaav * * 68 (7) 68* (7)
13 tooty_pops * * 73 (6) 73* (6)
13 Eisemant 31 (6) * * 31* (6)
15 Bhseelp * * 105 (4) 105* (4)
16 Matt Wiersum 46 (2) * * 46* (2)

If you missed the first three games, but still want to play for the Kentucky game and any subsequent games, here are the rules.

How to play: For starters, this isn’t a standard bracket challenge. This challenge will only focus on Michigan’s games. For each game, we will pose five questions, such as “What will be Michigan’s field goal percentage?” or “How many points will Jordan Morgan score?” If you predict Morgan to score 10 points and he only scores four, you get six points (the deviation). The results from all five questions will be totaled and the contestant with the lowest deviation from the actual is the winner.

Prizing: This will be a continual game that runs for as long as Michigan remains in the tournament. There will not be a prize for each game, but instead, an M Den gift card awarded to the overall winner in increments of $10 based on the number of games played. If Michigan loses its first game, it will be a $10 gift card. If the Wolverines advance to Round three, a $20 gift card; Sweet 16, $30; Elite 8, $40; Final Four, $50; and if Michigan makes it to the championship game, the prize will be a $60 gift card. So make sure to enter prior to each Michigan game throughout the tournament if you want to win.

Timing: Below are the questions for Michigan’s next game against Kentucky on Sunday. All entries must be received by tip-off (prior to 5:05 p.m. ET). If Michigan wins, the questions for the Final Four game will be posted on Monday and you will have until one minute before the start of that game on Saturday to enter, and so on for the rest of the tournament as long as Michigan advances. Results and updated standings will also be posted after each game. Good luck and may the odds be ever in your favor.

Here are the questions for the Kentucky game:

Taking charge: Michigan 73 – Tennessee 71

March 28th, 2014 by Justin Potts


Win the Game vs Tennessee 3-28-14(MGoBlue.com)

The pregame build up for Michigan’s Sweet Sixteen matchup with 11th-seeded Tennessee centered around the Volunteers’ physical advantage with bruising big men Jarnell Stokes and Jaronne Maymon. Michigan’s overlooked center, senior Jordan Morgan, took notice and outplayed both of them, leading the Wolverines to a 73-71 victory.

“We heard all week about they had mismatches and how we couldn’t guard them inside,” Morgan said. “I guess people forgot we play in the Big Ten and we won the Big Ten outright.”

Morgan’s defense held Stokes to just 11 points and six rebounds — well below both his season and NCAA Tournament averages — while piling up 15 points and seven boards of his own. But his biggest play was also the most controversial. With nine seconds remaining and Michigan clinging to a one point lead, Tennessee inbounded the ball to Stokes along the baseline. As Stokes made his move to the basket, Morgan stood strong, drawing the contact and falling backward. Charge was called and Michigan survived.

Jordan Morgan won the battle of big men with 15 points and seven rebounds (MGoBlue.com)

Jordan Morgan won the battle of big men with 15 points and seven rebounds (MGoBlue.com)

“They set a screen for him to come open, so I knew that the play was going to be for him,” Morgan said of the play. “I just know he likes to play bully ball and was just in a stance ready. I don’t know, I just was there. That’s just something I do. I take charges. That’s just what I do.”

Despite Morgan’s strong play, the game didn’t have to come down to the wire had Michigan not blown a sizable lead. The Wolverines led 60-45 with 10:56 to play and seemed to be cruising into the Elite Eight. But Tennessee started chipping away at the lead. An 8-0 run cut the lead to seven before a Morgan jumper ended a scoring drought of 3:30.

Tennessee cut the lead to six, but Derrick Walton Jr. answered with his second three of the game. Layups by Josh Richardson and Jordan McRae sandwiched a Stauskas layup and then Stauskas nailed a three to bring Michigan’s lead back to double digits at ten. But Tennessee wasn’t done.

Back-to-back Tennessee baskets brought it within six, and after a Morgan dunk, the Volunteers got a three-point play by McRae. After a Michigan turnover Richardson got a layup to pull the Vols within three with just 24 seconds left. Spike Albrecht inbounded the ball to Glenn Robinson III along the sideline, but he had nowhere to go with it and threw it away. Tennessee once again capitalized with a layup by McRae. Suddenly, Michigan’s lead was down to one with 10 seconds left.

Albrecht threw the inbounds pass to Caris LeVert, who stepped on the end line as he tried to turn and run. Now, not only was Michigan up just one, but Tennessee had possession and a chance to win. But that’s when Morgan stepped in to draw the charge. Michigan got the ball to Stauskas, who was sent to the free throw line and made the front end of the one-and-one. Tennessee’s last-ditch heave didn’t fall and Michigan survived.

Michigan shot 55.1 percent for the game, but 61.5 percent in the first half, which helped the Wolverines open up the big lead. Michigan led by 11 at the half. They cooled off in the second, shooting “just” 47.8 percent. After a 7-of-9 three-point performance in the first half, Michigan made 4-of-11 in the second half.

As expected, Michigan lost the rebounding battle, but the 28-26 difference was much closer than the pregame talk predicted. The main area of concern is an uncharacteristic 13 turnovers for a Michigan squad that committed just four against Texas in the Round of 32.

Morgan led Michigan with 15 points and seven rebounds. Stauskas added 14 on 5-of-12 shooting and 3-of-8 three-point shooting. Robinson III continued his solid play in the tournament with 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting to go along with five rebounds. LeVert was the fourth Michigan player in double figures with 10 points, while Walton Jr. was one shy with nine. Zak Irvin went 3-of-3 off the bench from downtown to also contribute nine.

Michigan remains in Indianapolis through the weekend and will face the winner of the Kentucky-Louisville match for a trip to the Final Four. The game will take place at 5:05 p.m. ET and be televised by CBS.

Three Stars

***Jordan Morgan***
15 points (7-of-9 FG, 1-of-1 FT), 7 rebounds (pne offensive), one block, one steal, one turnover in 32 minutes

**Jordan McRae (UT)**
24 points (9-of-18 FG, 0-of-5 3PT, 6-of-11 FT), six rebounds (two offensive), four block, one steal, two assists in 38 minutes

*Glenn Robinson III*
13 points (5-of-8FG, 1-of-1 3PT, 1-of-2 FT), five rebounds (two offensive), two assists, one steal, two turnovers in 39 minutes

Quick Hitters

 Michigan broke the program record for made three-pointers in a season, surpassing the previous mark of 305, which was set in 2008-09. The Wolverines currently have 312 on the season.

 This Michigan team currently ranks eighth in program history for points scored in a season. The Wolverines moved up from 11th, surpassing the 1996-97, 1997-98, and 1991-92 teams.

 Michigan is now 8-0 this season when Jordan Morgan scores in double figures and 13-2 when Nik Stasukas, Caris LeVert, and Glenn Robinson III all score in double figures.

 Jordan Morgan currently ranks first all-time in single season (68.80 percent) and career (62.71 percent) field goal percentage. He leads Maceo Baston by 0.64 and 0.04 percent, respectively.

 Nik Stauskas surpassed the 600-point mark on the season, the 21st time a Michigan player has accomplished the feat. Stauskas is also now just one three-pointer away from tying Louis Bullock (1995-97) for the most made threes in the first two seasons.

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
01 Glenn Robinson III* 5-8 1-1 2-2 2 3 5 0 13 2 2 0 1 39
10 Derrick Walton Jr.* 2-2 2-2 3-3 0 6 6 3 9 4 3 0 0 30
11 Nik Stauskas* 5-12 3-8 1-2 0 0 0 1 14 2 1 0 0 37
52 Jordan Morgan* 7-9 0-0 1-1 1 6 7 3 15 0 1 1 1 32
23 Caris LeVert* 4-10 2-5 0-0 0 1 1 1 10 5 5 0 3 33
02 Spike Albrecht 1-2 0-1 0-0 0 0 0 2 2 1 0 0 0 10
15 Jon Horford 0-1 0-0 1-2 1 3 4 2 1 0 0 0 0 8
21 Zak Irvin 3-5 3-3 0-0 0 0 0 1 9 0 0 0 0 11
Totals 27-49 11-20 8-10 6 20 26 13 73 14 13 1 5 200
Tennessee 30-57 3-11 8-14 11 17 28 13 71 11 7 8 7 200
Full Stats

Michigan hoops preview: Tennessee

March 28th, 2014 by Justin Potts


Michigan vs Tennessee banner
#7/8 (2-seed) Michigan (27-8, 15-3) vs (11-seed) Tennessee (24-12, 11-7)
Friday, Mar. 28 | Indianapolis, Ind. | 7:15 p.m. EST | CBS
Offense
74.0 Points/gm 72.2
(891-1,876) 47.5 Field Goal % 45.1 (897-1,991)
(301-756) 39.8 3-pt FG % 32.6 (202-620)
(508-667) 76.2 Free Throw % 72.2 (605-838)
14.5 FT Made/gm 16.8
31.7 Reb/gm 38.8
14.3 Assists/gm 12.8
9.3 Turnovers/gm 10.6
Defense
64.6 Points/gm 61.4
(844-1,920) 44.0 Field Goal % 41.0 (796-1,942)
(191-610) 31.3 3-pt FG % 33.8 (181-536)
31.2 Opp. Reb/gm 30.1
5.2 Steals/gm 5.1
2.5 Blocks/gm 4.6
Individual Leaders
N. Stauskas (17.4), LeVert/Robinson (13.1) Points/gm Jordan McRae (18.6), Jarnell Stokes (15.2)
Jordan Morgan (5.0), Caris LeVert (4.5) Reb/gm Jarnell Stokes (10.7), Jeronne Maymon (8.3)

___________________________________________________________________________________

In Michigan’s NCAA Tournament opener against Wofford, the Wolverines advanced despite a sluggish performance. They avoided a letdown in the second game against Texas, opening up a large lead thanks to hot first half shooting and then staving off a Longhorn run to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the second straight season. Now, Michigan faces a tougher test in a surging Tennessee squad.

Related
Sam’s 3 thoughts: Tennessee
Inside the Numbers: Previewing the Midwest Regional — Louisville/UK edition
Inside the Numbers: Previewing the Midwest Regional — Tennessee edition
Inside the Numbers: It sure is sweet
M&GB March Madness Five-Spot Challenge: Tennessee

Tennessee enters with a 24-12 overall record and went 11-7 in the nation’s seventh-best conference (according to conference RPI), the SEC. The Vols have an interesting resume with a 35-point win over Virginia, the No. 1 seed in the East Region, but also three losses — including one by 26 — to South Region No. 1 seed Florida. UT split a pair of non-conference games with Xavier and lost by 11 to Wichita State, but also lost twice to Texas A&M.

Coming into this matchup, Tennessee has won eight of nine, the lone blemish a seven point loss to Florida in the SEC Tournament semifinal. The late-season push got the Vols into the NCAA Tournament First Four where they held off a team Michigan is very familiar with, Iowa, in overtime. They then cruised past six-seed UMass and 14-seed Mercer by 19 and 20 points, respectively. 

The Starters
Minutes Points FG% 3FG% FT% Reb Ast TO Blk Stl
Jordan McRae (G) 32.0 18.6 43.3 35.9 80.1 3.4 2.5 2.1 0.9 0.7
Jarnell Stokes (F) 32.4 15.2 53.0 00.0 69.7 10.7 2.0 2.1 0.9 0.6
Josh Richardson (G) 30.1 10.1 46.6 33.7 79.3 2.9 1.5 1.0 0.8 0.7
Jeronne Maymon (F) 28.6 9.9 53.8 00.0 68.4 8.3 1.1 1.8 0.4 0.7
Antonio Barton (G) 25.4 7.7 37.2 33.8 68.9 2.3 2.1 0.9 0.1 0.6
The Others
Minutes Points FG% 3FG% FT% Reb Ast TO Blk Stl
Armani Moore (G) 12.7 3.0 46.2 28.0 58.6 2.1 0.6 0.3 0.6 0.4
Darius Thompson (G) 16.5 2.6 38.8 19.5 73.3 2.0 2.4 0.9 0.2 1.0
Derek Reese (G) 10.7 2.3 32.1 25.7 69.2 3.0 0.3 0.5 0.4 0.2
A.J. Davis (G/F) 9.4 1.3 40.0 37.5 22.2 1.6 0.2 0.4 0.2 0.2

 For a detailed breakdown of Tennessee’s personnel and statistics read Drew’s Inside the Numbers: Previewing the Midwest Regional — Tennessee post. 

The Schedule
Date Opponent Score
Nov. 12 at Xavier L 63-67
Nov. 16 USC Upstate W 74-65
Nov. 18 Citadel W 86-60
Nov. 22 Tennessee State W 88-67
Nov. 28 UTEP* L 70-78
Nov. 29 Xavier* W 64-49
Nov. 30 Wake Forest W 82-63
Dec. 7 Tennessee Tech W 84-63
Dec. 14 at #12 Wichita State L 61-70
Dec. 18 N.C. State L 58-65
Dec. 23 Morehead State W 82-67
Dec. 30 Virginia W 87-52
Jan. 4 Tusculum W 98-51
Jan. 7 at LSU W 68-50
Jan. 11 Texas A&M L 56-57
Jan. 15 Auburn W 78-67
Jan. 18 #13 Kentucky L 66-74
Jan. 22 Arkansas W 81-74
Jan. 25 at #6 Florida L 41-67
Jan. 29 Ole Miss W 86-70
Feb. 1 at Alabama W 76-59
Feb. 5 at Vanderbilt L 60-64
Feb. 8 South Carolina W 72-53
Feb. 11 #3 Florida L 58-67
Feb. 15 at Missouri L 70-75
Feb. 18 Georgia W 67-48
Feb. 22 at Texas A&M L 65-68 OT
Feb. 26 Mississippi State W 75-68
Mar. 1 Vanderbilt W 76-38
Mar. 5 at Auburn W 82-54
Mar. 8 Missouri W 72-45
Mar. 14 South Carolina^ W 59-44
Mar. 15 #1 Florida^ L 49-56
Mar. 19 (11) Iowa# W 78-65 OT
Mar. 21 (6) UMass# W 86-67
Mar. 23 (14) Mercer# W 83-63
*Battle 4 Atlantis, ^SEC Tournament, #NCAA Tournament

Tennessee 4 factors

The Series

Michigan is 5-5 all-time against Tennessee with each team winning every matchup on the other’s home court and Michigan winning the only previous NCAA Tournament meeting. The last time the two met was in the 2011 NCAA Tournament Second Round when Michigan defeated the Volunteers 75-45. Michigan also beat Tennessee in Ann Arbor 87-52 on Dec. 2, 1985; 78-74 on Dec. 7, 1974; 71-63 on Dec. 1, 1965; and 70-60 on Dec. 19, 1959. The Wolverines lost to Tennessee in Knoxville 81-77 on Dec. 29, 1984; 82-81 on Dec. 6, 1975; 72-54 on Dec. 1, 1966; 75-64 on Dec. 3, 1960; and 80-66 on Dec. 6, 1958. 

While Michigan has experience playing in Indianapolis, this will mark the first time Michigan has played at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Wolverines are 9-9 all-time in Indianapolis, but all 18 games, including three this season, were at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (formerly Conseco Fieldhouse) in the Big Ten Tournament. 

Jim Abbott continues to inspire

March 28th, 2014 by Justin Potts


Jim Abbott header

Jim Abbott led Michigan baseball to the Big Ten title in 1986 and 1987 and was named Big Ten Athlete of the Year his senior season. He led the United States to Olympic gold and was named the nation’s top amateur athlete before being drafted by the California Angels in the 1988 MLB draft. During his Major League Baseball career he pitched a no-hitter in Yankee Stadium and played for four different teams before retiring in 1999. Oh, and he did it all despite being born without a right hand.

When is baseball career came to an end, Abbott became a motivational speaker. I spoke to Abbott for BTN LiveBIG about his motivational speaking career.

How did you manage the transition to life after baseball and becoming a motivational speaker?

Abbott: It’s a pretty difficult adjustment. You do something your whole life and you have all your eggs in that basket, and all of the sudden it’s over. For me, it ended a little bit earlier than I had hoped.

There’s a transition period that’s really difficult. You’re most comfortable in that uniform, on a baseball field, and all the sudden you’re spit out into this world where you have to find a niche for yourself. You miss it a lot – the structure of that life, the routine, the camaraderie, and the competition. That is a tough thing to replace. But I found different things that helped me replace that.

Click here to read the rest of the Q&A on BTNLiveBIG.com

Sam’s 3 thoughts: Tennessee

March 28th, 2014 by Sam Sedlecky


Michigan-Tennessee header_NCAAT

This year’s Michigan basketball team has been called many things — too young, too soft, too small — and perhaps some of those issues will creep up before the end of the tournament. But right now, the Wolverines are something else — just plain good.

After cruising through the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, however, Michigan is still not getting the attention that one might think it deserves — perhaps because of a lack of drama in their clinical victories — and I’m sure that is completely fine with John Beilein and his players. After all, they’ve gotten quite used to getting written off all season long. Yet tonight at 7:15 on CBS, the Wolverines will continue their quest for another Final Four against the upstart, quasi-Cinderalla 11th-seeded Tennessee Volunteers, the only team in the field with three tournament wins to date.

One more win, and Michigan will find itself in the Elite Eight for the second straight season. One more win, and the Maize and Blue can smell the end of the Road to Dallas. One more win, and perhaps one or two doubters will believe.

Here are my three thoughts on the showdown:

Fight on the Glass: It’s no secret that Michigan is far from a bruising inside team. Once Mitch McGary went down in December, any notion of a two-big style went out the window. The Wolverines win with other-worldly shooting and an all-around incredibly efficient offense. In most games, they simply out-score the competition while figuring that enough of their shots will fall that losing the rebounding battle won’t ruin their chances.

UT coach Cuonzo Martin played with Glenn Robinson's dad at Purdue (Grant Halverson, Getty Images)

UT coach Cuonzo Martin played with Glenn Robinson III’s dad at Purdue (Grant Halverson, Getty Images)

For now, that likely has Tennessee licking its chops. The Volunteers, under third-year head coach Cuonzo Martin, do one thing very well: rebound. Tennessee boasts a pair of 6’8″, 250-pound brutes in Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon that are, according to KenPom, both top-30 offensive rebounders in the country. Neither is a slouch on the defensive glass, but the Volunteers are at their best when the two big boys are feasting on misses and easy put-backs. Stokes is really the one that gets things going, and his three monster double-doubles in the Big Dance, totaling 61 points and 45 rebounds, are the reason Tennessee is still alive.

This evening, Michigan will have to at least limit the two beasts on the offensive glass, but they do not have to be world beaters. Against Texas, Michigan actually allowed the Longhorns to rebound more than half of their own misses but still ran away with a comfortable 14-point win.

Dare Them to Shoot: Michigan’s relative ineptitude defensively this season has been in allowing far too many uncontested drives and layups. In a few games, an opposing star player has really gone off from downtown, but the Wolverines have generally been solid against the three-pointer, only allowing opponents to make 31.3 percent from deep.

Against Tennessee, however, Michigan will be happy to sag off to protect the paint and dare the Volunteers to jack up shots. On the season, Tennessee is one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country, as they make less than 32 percent of their attempts beyond the arc, and it has gotten even worse in the tourney. In their three victories, all by at least 13 points (but one in OT), the Volunteers have made a miserable 22.8 percent (13-of-57) of their triple tries, yet they are still attempting almost 20 deep ones per night. Michigan, on the other hand, has made eight more threes in one fewer game than Tennessee while attempting 12 fewer shots (21-of-45, 46.7 percent).

The two Volunteers Michigan will have to keep an eye on outside the arc are senior Jordan McRae and junior Josh Richardson, who shoot 35.8 percent and 34.4 percent, respectively. A third player, senior Memphis transfer Antonio Barton, knocked down four of nine triples in a blowout win over Mercer last weekend, but is just shooting 32.6 percent from deep on the year. To give these stats some contrast, Tennessee’s best three-point shooter would be Michigan’s sixth-best.

Triple Double-Double Time?: Jordan Morgan does not want to go home. Michigan’s only senior, who said as much after the Wolverines dismantled Texas last Saturday, has shown that sentiment just as strongly on the court, where he has recorded two straight double-doubles and three in his last six games. Morgan, with a very quiet 25 points, 20 rebounds, four assists, and three steals in Milwaukee, has been one of the tournament’s most unsung heroes. If his stellar play continues, people will eventually take notice, but he has made it clear thus far that he’d rather simply prove people wrong.

Tonight’s primetime matchup, the first game of this year’s Sweet Sixteen, will provide Morgan with plenty of naysayers. Certainly Stokes’s rising star will fuel Morgan’s fire even more, and if the native Detroiter can outplay his counterpart on the way to a third straight double-double and second straight Elite Eight, there will be little ignoring his worth.

Prediction: To be completely honest, I think Michigan has been overlooked by many pundits so far in this tournament and Tennessee has been a bit over-hyped at the same time. Tennessee needed overtime to get by a crumbling Iowa team before rolling through overrated Massachusetts and 14th-seeded Mercer, and has yet to face a serious test. John Beilein’s offense could do serious damage against this 12-loss SEC squad. If Michigan continues to shoot the ball well, and there is little reason to believe they won’t, the Wolverines should win by double digits again. I like the Maize and Blue behind another monster performance from Nik Stauskas, 77-67.

Glenn Robinson III boosting Michigan in March

March 27th, 2014 by Derick Hutchinson


GRIII block vs Texas(Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

Throughout Michigan’s magical run to the 2014 outright Big Ten Championship, players like Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert stepped up and carried John Beilein’s team. In the paint, Senior Jordan Morgan returned to his old form after Mitch McGary underwent back surgery.

All season, the eyes of the college basketball world lingered on these Michigan stars, and Glenn Robinson III flew under the radar.

It seems more than absurd to suggest that such an athletic and exciting player could go unnoticed in college basketball, but Robinson does just that. Despite the weekly highlight dunks and displays of freakish athletic ability, experts labelled Robinson largely as an underachiever, playing first in the shadows of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. and now those of Stauskas and LeVert.

But the former five-star recruit recently stepped up his production, leading the Wolverines to their second straight Sweet 16.

GRIII has averaged 14 points and six rebounds in the two NCAA Tournament games so far (MGoBlue.com)

GRIII has averaged 14 points and six rebounds in the two NCAA Tournament games so far (MGoBlue.com)

In two NCAA Tournament games last weekend, Robinson averaged 14 points and six rebounds for a team that struggled to find its offense against Wofford and desperately needed rebounds against a much bigger Texas team.

Robinson, often criticized for emitting a peaceful, even careless demeanor throughout his college career, appeared to take a page out of his best friend and teammate McGary’s book in 2014. McGary played his best basketball of last season during the Big Dance and gained preseason All-American honors largely because of that.

This season, Robinson struggled with consistency and even disappeared for periods of time, including a two-point effort in the blowout loss at Iowa and 0-of-3 shooting performance in a loss to Charlotte in the Puerto Rico Classic.

When the sophomore struggles on offense Michigan turns into a different team. In five of the team’s eight losses this season Robinson failed to score in double figures.

Since the middle of February, however, he has maintained the most consistent stretch of his young career, scoring at least 10 points in 10 of 11 games. As a result, Michigan finished the regular season on a five-game winning streak, secured a Big Ten title, played in the Big Ten Championship game and finds itself back in the Sweet 16.

Robinson garnered his biggest headlines before stepping foot in Ann Arbor, and has played the role of sidekick ever since. But behind two standout performances by the sophomore on the sport’s biggest stage, the Maize and Blue faithful watched two blowout wins in a weekend that saw powerhouse teams like Duke, Kansas and even undefeated Wichita State fall.

What allowed Michigan to coast in the second and third rounds? The quiet production of Robinson, who did a little bit of everything for the Wolverines, certainly helped. If Michigan hopes to advance to Sunday’s Elite 8, Robinson will have to play a big role in slowing down a hot Tennessee team.

Inside the Numbers: Previewing the Midwest Regional — Louisville and Kentucky edition

March 26th, 2014 by Drew Hallett


Pitino - Calipari(Britney McIntosh, UK)

Earlier today, “Inside the Numbers” provided Part One of its Midwest Regional Preview. Part One focused on the tough path Michigan faces to reach its second straight Final Four and presented an in-depth scouting report of Michigan’s Sweet Sixteen opponent, the No. 11-seed Tennessee Volunteers.

If the Wolverines beat the Volunteers, they will face either the No. 4-seed Louisville Cardinals or the No. 8-seed Kentucky Wildcats in the Elite Eight. Therefore, Part Two of the Midwest Regional Preview will provide an in-depth scouting report of each of the potential teams Michigan may see in the Elite Eight, so fans will know what to expect if U-M wins on Friday.

Louisville: 31-5 (15-3 AAC) | Seed: No. 4 | Pomeroy Rank: No. 3

Overview: On Selection Sunday, many analysts picked Louisville as one of their favorites to not only to emerge out of the Midwest Regional, but to win the national championship. These predictions were not baseless. Entering the NCAA Tournament, Louisville was streaking, having won 11 of its past 12 games. Further, the Cardinals did not just win these games. They demolished the competition, recording an average margin of victory of 27.2 points during this span. However, Louisville had a shaky first weekend in the NCAA Tournament, barely scraping by No. 13-seed Manhattan before winning a slop fest against No. 5-seed Saint Louis. Louisville advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, but it no longer appears to be the juggernaut everyone claimed it was.

Resume: 3-1 vs. Pomeroy Top 25; 7-5 vs. Pomeroy Top 50; 9-5 vs. Pomeroy Top 100; No losses vs. Pomeroy Sub-100

Louisville ran through most of its schedule without a hiccup. The Cardinals played 24 teams outside Pomeroy’s top 50 and 22 teams outside his top 100. Louisville thrashed most of them by at least 20 points. However, Louisville had only the 101st-toughest schedule in the nation according to Pomeroy. The reason is because the Cardinals played so few top 50 teams. And, on top of that, the Cardinals did not perform consistently against these upper-tier teams, losing five times in 12 games, albeit none by double digits. For this reason, it is unclear whether Louisville can string together enough wins against elite competition to contend for a national title.

Four Factors:

Louisville Four Factors

Offensive Profile: Louisville is extremely efficient offensively, ranking No. 15 in adjusted offensive efficiency. This is no surprise when the Cardinals racked up 1.160 points per possession in AAC play. Yet Louisville did not fare as well against stingy Manhattan and Saint Louis defenses, failing to exceed one point per possession in the NCAA Tournament. This has unearthed some cracks in the foundation.

The most evident crack is turnovers. This may seem odd because Louisville has been great about not coughing up the basketball, ranking No. 25 in offensive turnover rate. Nonetheless, Louisville’s offensive efficiency relies on maintaining a low offensive turnover rate. This can be a problem when Louisville’s point guard is Russ Smith.

Smith is the engine of Louisville’s offense. He has a usage rate of 30.9 percent, which is the 35th-highest rate in the nation. Despite this, Smith has actually been more efficient this season than in years past. He is shooting better than he ever has from both two and three, while recording his best assist rate to date. Smith also gets to the free-throw line frequently. In two NCAA Tournament games, Smith has made 21 trips to the charity stripe. Nonetheless, Smith is a wildcard. He has a reputation for forcing plays and taking bad shots. If Smith starts to think he can beat defenses one on five, he starts to take contested two-point jumpers and commit careless turnovers. It is no coincidence that in Louisville’s last two games, during which its offense stumbled for long stretches, Smith had 13 turnovers total.

The Cardinals also like to get the ball to their best big man, Montrezl Harrell, in the post Harrell is an athletic freak who uses his natural abilities and strength to be productive around the rim and sky high for offensive rebounds. Harrell may have a nice tough on his jump shot, but do not expect many from him. Two-thirds of his shots are dunks, layups, and tips, of which he makes 72 percent. He is a load for defenses to hand in the interior.

Michigan fans are well aware of Luke Hancock from last year's championship game, but he's the fifth-best three-point shooter Louisville has (Jeff Reinking, UL Athletics)

Michigan fans are well aware of Luke Hancock from last year’s championship game, but he’s the fifth-best three-point shooter Louisville has (Jeff Reinking, UL Athletics)

On the perimeter, Louisville has an army of shooters. There are five Cardinals who have attempted at least 50 threes and made at least 34 percent. Luke Hancock—a name Michigan fans are all too familiar with—is the first person who comes to mind, but he has actually been worst of these five shooters, barely making 34 percent. Wayne Blackshear (40.2 pct.), Smith (39.7 pct.), Chris Jones (38.1 pct.), and Terry Rozier (37.1 pct.) have been much more lethal from downtown. Accordingly, Louisville punishes teams that try to play zone defense against it.

One thing to keep an eye on is Louisville’s free-throw shooting. Louisville does not need free throws to improve its offensive efficiency. But, by shooting only 66.3 percent from the charity stripe, the Cardinals may leave the door open for opponents trying to claw their way back into a game in the final minutes. If opponents are in a must-foul situation, Harrell, who makes less than 50 percent of his free throws, is the man they want to send to the line.

Defensive Profile: Louisville is even better defensively. Louisville is ranked No. 3 in adjusted defensive efficiency behind only Arizona and Florida. Louisville held AAC teams to 0.905 points per possession. The Cardinals have been even better in the NCAA Tournament, limiting Manhattan and Saint Louis to only 0.833 points per possession. It is on the defensive end where Louisville dominates games.

Pressure is the one word needed to summarize Louisville’s defense. Louisville attacks opponents defensively by running a variety of full-court and three-quarters-court presses. These presses cause opponents to panic and make mental mistakes, like throwing the ball away. This is why Louisville has the second-best defensive turnover rate, forcing opponents to commit a turnover 25 percent of the time, and the second-best defensive steal rate. Additionally, these presses help Louisville speed up the tempo of the game to a pace that best suits the Cardinals.

Without these turnovers, though, Louisville is not nearly as effective in getting stops. Louisville’s half-court defense allows too many offensive rebounds because the Cardinals’ wings are trying to get out in transition to ignite a fast break before their post players have hauled in the defensive rebound. Further, if Louisville does not force turnovers, the intense and hectic pressure that it applies causes referees to call fouls on the Cardinals, sending opponents to the free-throw line often. This is why teams that can break Louisville’s presses have the best chance to light up the scoreboard.

However, Louisville’s defense is not a one-trick pony. The Cardinals’ field-goal defense is top-notch. The Cardinals have the sixth-best defensive effective field-goal percentage (eFG%) in the nation. The Cardinals hold opponents to just 44.2 percent shooting on two-pointers, but are even better along the perimeter. Teams make only 28.6 percent of their threes against Louisville, which is the second-lowest percentage in the nation. But this is more likely good luck than anything else. Three-point defense is more about how much a defense limits three-point attempts. Although Louisville is decent at preventing three-point attempts, the Cardinals are by no means locking down the three-point line.

Michigan’s Key to Victory: If Michigan rematches the team it fell to in last year’s championship game, the turnover battle will be the key. Offensively for Michigan, the Wolverines will be dealing with Louisville’s pressure all game. The good news for the Wolverines is that they are one of the best at holding onto the basketball. Michigan always has multiple excellent ball handlers on the court, whether it is Derrick Walton, Jr., Spike Albrecht, Nik Stauskas, or Caris LeVert. Accordingly, U-M’s offensive turnover rate is only 14.7 percent, which is the 12th-best in the nation. If Michigan can routinely break Louisville’s pressure, it will be able to slow the pace to its liking and limit Louisville’s points off turnovers.

Defensively for Michigan, the Wolverines will have problems getting stops unless Smith decides to do it all by himself. If Smith tries hero ball, he likely will shut out his teammates and turn over the basketball frequently. However, Michigan does not pressure opposing offenses into turnovers. Therefore, if Smith is able to get into a groove and get his teammates involved, the Wolverines will have a very difficult time defending not only Harrell in the paint, but also all of Louisville’s snipers around the perimeter.

Kentucky: 26-10 (12-6 SEC) | Seed: No. 8 | Pomeroy Rank: No. 13

Overview: No team had more preseason hype than Kentucky. With what many scouts dubbed as the best recruiting class in the history of college basketball, even better than Michigan’s “Fab Five,” Kentucky was ranked No. 1 in the preseason Associated Press (AP) poll. Some even though that a perfect 40-0 season was realistic. Not exactly. The regular season was a rollercoaster ride for the youngest and most inexperienced team in the country. Kentucky appeared to be stumbling at the finish line, but a hard-fought, one-point loss to top-ranked Florida in the SEC Tournament reminded the Wildcats just how talented they really are. UK used this confidence boost to beat No. 9-seed Kansas State in the opening round before handing No. 1-seed Wichita State its first loss of the season in an all-time classic.

Resume: 3-5 vs. Pomeroy Top 25; 5-6 vs. Pomeroy Top 50; 16-9 vs. Pomeroy Top 100; One loss vs. Pomeroy Sub-100

Kentucky played one of the most difficult schedules in the country. Unlike many major-conference schools, the Wildcats scheduled a challenging non-conference slate. UK failed to win any of its first three marquee non-conference contests against Michigan State, Baylor, and North Carolina, but the Wildcats earned a signature win by upending in-state rival Louisville. In conference play, though, UK’s only quality wins was a home victory against Tennessee. It also did not help that UK was swept by Florida and Arkansas and suffered a bad road loss to South Carolina. But this did not prevent Kentucky from earning its best win of the year last Sunday when UK knocked off formerly undefeated Wichita State.

Four Factors:

Kentucky Four Factors

Offensive Profile: Kentucky is ranked No. 17 in adjusted offensive efficiency, but its offense has been faltering in the past few weeks. Through UK’s first 27 games, the Wildcats exceeded one point per possession in each game. In the nine games thereafter, though, Kentucky has managed to exceed that mark only four times. This is a sign of inconsistency, but the Wildcats did just post 1.258 points per possession against Wichita State, the most the Shockers allowed all season.

This inconsistency stems from poor shooting. Kentucky is ranked No. 158 in eFG%. Do not blame Kentucky’s interior offense, though. The Wildcats convert 50.1 of their two-pointers, which is 102nd-best in the nation. They do this by feeding freshman star Julius Randle on the block. Randle is a walking double-double. He averages 15.1 points and 10.6 rebounds per game and has double-doubles in both of his NCAA Tournament games. Randle scores often because he uses a team-high 26.5 percent of UK’s possessions and is very efficient around the rim. About half of Randle’s shots are at the rim, of which he converts 71 percent because of his array of post moves and strength to outmuscle opposing defenders. However, Randle likes to settle for jumpers from time to time, of which he makes only 33.7 percent. Teams will make Randle look average if he repeated takes seven- to 15-foot jumpers all game.

Related
 Inside the Numbers: Previewing the Midwest Regional — Tennessee edition
Inside the Numbers: It sure is sweet
The M&GB March Madness Five-Spot Challenge: Tennessee

Kentucky also likes to get the ball to Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress on the block. They are not nearly as skilled as Randle or receive as many touches, but their size—Cauley Stein is 7’0” and Poythress is 6’8”—makes it difficult for defenders to guard them effectively. Similar to Randle, about half of their shots are around the rim. Cauley-Stein is more efficient there, making 76.2 percent, while Poythress converts 66.7 percent of his shots at the rim. Also, Cauley-Stein shoots 37.7 percent on his two-point jumpers, which means he can be effective away from the rim as well.

Kentucky’s shooting problems arise from inability to make the long ball. Kentucky drains only 32.7 percent of its threes, which is No. 239 in the nation. UK does not attempt many threes either. Only three Wildcats have attempted more than 50 threes. James Young and Aaron Harrison have attempted 222 and 155 three-pointers, respectively, both making an average 34.2 percent. Andrew Harrison is UK’s best three-point shooter, drilling 36.1 percent, but he attempted only 83 threes. And, if any other Wildcat lets one fly from behind the arc, opponents will be more than happy as no other major contributor shoots better than 30 percent from three-point territory.

Despite these shooting issues, Kentucky finds other ways to score. First, Kentucky grabs 42 percent of its missed shots, which is the second-best offensive rebounding rate in the nation. All four of Kentucky’s big men—all of whom are at least 6’8” and two are 7’0”—use their incredible size to hit the glass hard. With two post players on the hardwood at all times, Kentucky usually has a size advantage at the center and power forward positions. If teams do not box out these post players, Kentucky will generate lots of second-chance points as all four of Randle, Cauley-Stein, Poythress, and Dakari Johnson have at least 30 put backs each.

Second, Kentucky is very adept at getting to the free-throw line. Kentucky’s free-throw rate is 53.2 percent, which is the seventh-highest rate in the nation. There are three Wildcats that have an individual free-throw rate higher than 60 percent. They are Randle (77 pct.), which is the 35th-best individual rate in the country, Andrew Harrison (69.4 pct.), and Johnson (62.7 pct.). But this does not mean that Kentucky is a good free-throw shooting team. The Wildcats make only 68.4 percent of their free throws, which is No. 229 in the nation. Both Randle and Andrew Harrison make at least 70 percent of their free throws, but it is Cauley-Stein (48.2 pct.) and Johnson (45.9 pct.) that cause UK’s free-throw percentage to plummet.

Julius Randle averages 15.1 points and 10.6 rebounds and has recorded a double-double in both NCAA Tournament games so far (Chet White, UK Athletics)

Julius Randle averages 15.1 points and 10.6 rebounds and has recorded a double-double in both NCAA Tournament games so far (Chet White, UK Athletics)

Turnovers also have been a problem for Kentucky. The Wildcats commit a turnover during 18.3 percent of their possessions, which is No. 167 in the nation. This is no surprise when the Wildcats have a true freshman, Andrew Harrison, running the offense. His turnover rate is an alarming 23.8 percent. This is actually higher than his assist rate. This is not what teams want from their point guard who is supposed to get the team into its offense. Andrew Harrison is prone to making bad mistakes with the ball in his hands and coughing the ball up to opponents, which has hurt Kentucky’s offensive efficiency.

Defensive Profile: Kentucky is ranked No. 26 in adjusted defensive efficiency in the nation. Kentucky’s defense had been playing very well prior to facing Wichita State on Sunday. In UK’s first four postseason games, three in the SEC Tournament and one in the NCAA Tournament, UK’s opponents scored only 0.940 points per possession. However, against the Shockers, which are an elite offensive team, Kentucky allowed an alarming 1.226 points per possession.

Kentucky’s defense is at its best when it is able to set up in the half court. According to Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn, the Wildcats allow a superb 0.796 points per possession when playing half-court defense. This is one of the best half-court defensive efficiencies in the nation. This is no surprise given Kentucky’s incredible size. The heights of UK’s starting lineup are 6’6”, 6’6”, 6’6”, 6’9”, and 7’0”. Once Kentucky is set up in its half-court defense, its size and length prevents opponents from having clean looks at the rim.

Accordingly, Kentucky has a defensive eFG% of 45.4 percent, which is the 29th-best in the nation, and a defensive block rate of 15.4 percent, which is the 12th-best in the nation. The anchor to UK’s stingy half-court defense is Cauley-Stein, who has the 12th-highest individual defensive block rate in the country. Additionally, the Wildcats do a decent job with its defensive rebounding, which is No. 91 in the nation, and not sending opponents to the free-throw line, No. 111 in the nation. Kentucky’s half-court defense is one of the most difficult in the nation to solve.

However, Kentucky’s defense loses its edge when opponents try to attack it in transition. When opponents attack Kentucky in transition, they are able to score 1.159 points per possession. This is a 0.363 point-per-possession difference from Kentucky’s defensive efficiency in the half court. This is the second-biggest drop-off between half-court defensive efficiency and transition defensive efficiency in all of NCAA D-1 college basketball. This is what happens when Kentucky puts a lineup with that much size on the court. The big men struggle to run back on defense in time to contest opponents’ transition opportunities. It also does not help that Kentucky has such a young roster, as those players are more prone to making mental mistakes when transitioning back to defense.

Also, despite having such incredible length, Kentucky does not force lots of turnovers. Opponents commit a turnover during only 16.2 percent of their possessions against Kentucky. This means that UK’s defensive turnover rate is No. 300 in the nation. The only Wildcat that has a higher defensive steal rate is Cauley-Stein, who is UK’s best defensive player. He does a great job interfering with opponents’ passes inside. However, there is very little threat from UK’s guards and wings that they will be able to steal the ball for easy transition points.

Michigan’s Key to Victory: Michigan plays one of the slowest tempos in the nation, but the Wolverines likely would need to speed it up to defeat Kentucky. There is a vast difference in the strength of UK’s defense when set in the half court and when scrambling back in transition. Although the Wolverines do not attack on the fast break very often, they are very lethal when they do so. If Michigan pushes the ball enough and speeds up the tempo, Stauskas and LeVert likely will have lots of open looks from three-point line in transition, while Glenn Robinson III may be available for a couple easy ones around the rim.

Defensively, similar to Tennessee, Kentucky does not shoot well from the perimeter. The Wildcats’ bread-and-butter is to work the ball inside to Randle and have its guards penetrate. Therefore, Michigan should pack the paint and sag off of Kentucky’s perimeter players. This may tempt UK’s guards to chuck it from three-point range. This also will have Michigan’s defenders positioned closer to the rim, which will help mitigate UK’s propensity to crash the offensive boards. Additionally, given how much Kentucky turns over the basketball, Michigan’s 1-3-1 zone likely will be very effective against UK’s youth.

Which Team Does Michigan Fans Want to Win:

Kentucky, I think. Although Michigan may have a better matchup offensively against Louisville because U-M has the ball handlers to break UL’s presses, the matchup defensively against Kentucky is too favorable despite the size disadvantage. Louisville’s offense is extremely balanced, and defenses one hope is that Russ Smith commits lots of turnovers by trying to do everything himself. But Michigan does not force opponents to commit lots of turnovers. If Michigan cannot pressure Smith into making mistakes, U-M will struggle to cover UL’s snipers on the perimeter. And they will not miss.

On the other hand, Kentucky is a poor shooting team that is prone to turnovers. Its offensive strengths are offensive rebounding and getting to the free-throw line, which Michigan has done a very good job at preventing opponents from doing all season. In this clash of strengths, Michigan will be able to hold up defensively as long as it packs the paint or runs its 1-3-1 zone for long periods of time. This will tempt the Wildcats’ perimeter players to shoot three-pointers, at which they are not very efficient, and make bad passes over the zone. Michigan has a much better chance against a poor shooting team because U-M is prone to allowing open looks.

Additionally, Kentucky may be the team that many fear because they have been playing their basketball as of late. However, they have been inconsistent all year. This is what happens when a team has the youngest roster in America, playing five freshmen and two sophomores the majority of its minutes. Michigan would much rather play a team that is prone to mistakes than a team full of upperclassmen that have appeared in the last two Final Fours and won the national championship last season.

Inside the Numbers: Previewing the Midwest Regional – Tennessee edition

March 26th, 2014 by Drew Hallett


Tennessee post-Mercer win(Wade Rackley, UT Athletics)

Yesterday, “Inside the Numbers” provided a historical analysis of Michigan’s extraordinary success in the Sweet Sixteen. It was a fun post that allowed Michigan fans to reminisce and hope that the good times will continue to roll this weekend. However, with Michigan’s Sweet Sixteen contest only two days away, it is time to start looking ahead at the obstacles that stand between Michigan and a trip to a second straight Final Four.

This weekend, there will be three teams traveling to the Midwest Regional in Indianapolis along with No. 2-seed Michigan: No. 4-seed Louisville, No. 8-seed Kentucky, and No. 11-seed Tennessee. The Wolverines will battle the Volunteers on Friday night in the Sweet Sixteen. If the Wolverines defeat Tennessee, they will then play the winner of the Louisville-Kentucky matchup in the Elite Eight.

It is important to note the difficulty of maneuvering through this regional. Many fans may see that the other three teams in the Midwest Regional are only a No. 4 seed, No. 8 seed, and No. 11 seed and think that this will be a cakewalk for No. 2-seed Michigan. This would be foolish. All three of these schools are much better than their seeds indicate. In fact, advanced statistics show that the Midwest Regional is the toughest remaining regional of the four.

KenPom Rankings by Region

All four teams in the Midwest Regional are ranked in the top 13 of Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, which use an advanced algorithm to rank teams based on their adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. Every other region has at least two teams ranked outside Pomeroy’s top 15. Further, the average Pomeroy rank of the Midwest Regional is 8.00, while it is 11.50 for the West Regional, 12.75 for the East Regional, and 22.50 for the South Regional. Michigan’s path to the Final Four is far from a cakewalk.

With the groundwork set that the Midwest Regional is the toughest to win of the four regionals, here is an in-depth scouting report of Michigan’s Sweet Sixteen opponent, Tennessee, in Part One. Part Two, which will be posted later today, will include in-depth scouting reports of Michigan’s potential opponents in the Elite Eight, Louisville and Kentucky, should U-M defeat UT.

Tennessee: 24-12 (11-7 SEC) | Seed: No. 11 | Pomeroy Rank: No. 6

Overview: Tennessee is weird. On one hand, Tennessee lost double-digit games in the regular season and finished with an 11-7 record in the nation’s fifth-best conference. This led to the Volunteers being a No. 11 seed and one of the last four bubble teams to make the NCAA Tournament. On the other hand, the computers are infatuated with Tennessee. The Volunteers are No. 6 in the nation in Pomeroy’s rankings and actually projected by Pomeroy to beat Michigan in the Sweet Sixteen despite the discrepancy in seeds. How is this possible? The “Resume” section below will attempt to answer.

The difference in Tennessee’s seed and Pomeroy rank make it very difficult to peg just how good the Volunteers are. Is Tennessee actually the sixth-best team in the nation? Probably not. But the Volunteers certainly are playing some of their best basketball at the moment. After upending an underrated No. 11-seed Iowa in overtime in the First Four, Tennessee steamrolled No. 6-seed Massachusetts by 19 points and No. 14-seed Mercer by 20 points to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

Resume: 1-5 vs. Pomeroy Top 25; 2-5 vs. Pomeroy Top 50; 11-9 vs. Pomeroy Top 100; three Losses to Pomeroy Sub-100

The reason why Tennessee barely snuck into the NCAA Tournament is that the Volunteers have a very poor record against the best teams in the nation. Prior to the NCAA Tournament, Tennessee had a 1-5 record against both the top 25 and top 50 of Pomeroy’s rankings. The Volunteers did not add that second top 50 win until they beat Iowa in the First Four. Three of those losses came at the hands of the Florida Gators, which are the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, with the other two against Wichita State and Kentucky. Additionally, Tennessee has three bad losses to teams ranked outside Pomeroy’s top 100, which includes being swept by Texas A&M and a road loss to Vanderbilt.

Yet Tennessee is still No. 6 in Pomeroy’s rankings because of the margin of victory in its games. Tennessee’s lone top 50 win prior to the NCAA Tournament was a 35-point smack down of No. 1-seed Virginia. Also, in SEC play, the Volunteers’ efficiency margin was plus-0.135 points per possession, which was second in the SEC. For comparison, Michigan’s efficiency margin in Big Ten play was plus-0.107 points per possession. Yes, the Big Ten was far superior to the SEC, but Tennessee’s efficiency margin indicates that UT won its games in blowout fashion while losing many down-to-the-wire contests.

Four Factors:

Tennessee Four Factors

Offensive Profile: Tennessee has the 16th-best offense in the nation in terms of adjusted efficiency and has shown why in the NCAA Tournament. In its three NCAA Tournament games, the Volunteers have scored no less than 78 points in each one, averaging a superb 1.286 points per possession in all three.

However, Tennessee is an average shooting team at best. UT is ranked only No. 170 in the nation in effective field goal percentage (eFG%) with an eFG% of 49.6 percent. This is because the Volunteers, like Texas, are a poor three-point shooting team. Tennessee is No. 282 in the nation in three-point shooting, making only 31.9 percent. The Volunteers have only two consistent shooters from behind the arc. The first is Jordan McRae, who has made 77-of-215 threes for a team-best 35.8 percent. The second is Josh Richardson, who has converted 34.4 percent of his threes this season. Yet Richardson has slumped from outside recently, draining only 3-of-22 (13.6 pct.) threes in his past seven games. The only other Volunteer likely to shoot from three-point range is Antonio Barton, who has attempted 141 threes this season. But Barton has made just a tad more than 32 percent of them, so he is not nearly as dangerous as the other two.

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This is why Tennessee is most efficient offensively when it tries to work the ball inside to its best player, Jarnell Stokes. Stokes is UT’s 6’8″ center who is a beast around the basket. About 50 percent of Stokes’ shots are either at the rim, meaning they are dunks, layups, or tips, while the other 50 percent are two-point jumpers. However, in this case, two-point jumpers are short shots about three to six feet from the hoop, not 15-foot pull-up shots. Stokes is very efficient around the basket, too. His eFG% at the rim is 68.5 percent. Expect Tennessee to feed Stokes—who is averaging 20.3 points per game in the NCAA Tournament—in the post early and often.

However, Tennessee’s low-post offense is not even its biggest offensive strength. Like Texas, the Volunteers’ offense thrives on crashing the glass. The Volunteers are the fourth-best offensive-rebounding team in the nation, corralling 39.8 percent of their missed shots. In their last game against Mercer, the Volunteers rebounded 18 of their 30 misses for an absurd offensive rebounding rate of 60 percent. Most of UT’s offensive rebounding comes from it two starting post players—Stokes and Jeronne Maymon. Both Stokes and Maymon are in the top 30 in the nation in individual offensive rebounding. In UT’s three NCAA Tournament games, Stokes and Maymon have averaged a combined seven offensive rebounds per game. Expect those two to be all over the glass on Friday night.

Unlike Texas, Tennessee plays at very slow pace similar to Michigan. The Volunteers’ adjusted tempo is only 62.8 possessions, which is the 325th-fastest out of 351 NCAA D-1 college hoops teams. Tennessee, which has a very short bench, likes to be patient and set up its half-court offense. Only 21.8 percent of UT’s initial shots are in transition, which is No. 260 in the nation. The Volunteers are not looking to run their opponents. They would much rather run down the shot clock and beat their opponents with execution and brute force.

Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon both rank in the top 30 nationally in offensive rebounding (Streeter Lecka, Getty Images)

Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon both rank in the top 30 nationally in offensive rebounding (Streeter Lecka, Getty Images)

Defensive Profile: Tennessee also is an excellent team on defense as well, ranking No. 18 in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Volunteers allowed SEC opponents to score only 0.973 points per possession and have held their three NCAA Tournament opponents to 1.016 points per possession. The key to Tennessee’s defense is that it is very balanced and very good at many different things.

The heart of Tennessee’s defense is inside the paint. Like Texas, the Volunteers do a fantastic job at holding opponents to a subpar shooting percentage from inside the three-point line. Teams have been able to convert only 44.3 percent of their two-pointers against the Volunteers. However, unlike Texas, Tennessee does not do this by jumping at and trying to block every shot around the rim. The Volunteers are very adept at maintaining their ground while contesting two-pointers. This allows Tennessee to rebound 72.5 percent of its opponents’ missed shots, which is 18th-best in the nation, and rarely send opponents to the free-throw line.

Another critical difference between Tennessee and Texas’ defense is that the Volunteers are much, much better at contesting opponents’ three-pointers. Only 27.3 percent of Tennessee’s opponents’ field-goal attempts have been threes. This is the 22nd-lowest rate in the nation. Teams have struggled to launch threes against Tennessee because of the length of its perimeter players. UT’s guards and wings are 6’6″, 6’6″, and 6’2″. These Volunteers use their length to quickly get out on three-point shooters, making it difficult for opponents to find open looks around the three-point line.

One element of Tennessee’s defense that opponents are not concerned with is turnovers. The Volunteers struggle to force their opponents to commit turnovers, forcing them to do so only 16.8 percent of their offensive possessions. Given the strengths of the rest of UT’s defense, it is imperative that UT’s opponents do not commit unforced errors against this defense. Otherwise, those opponents will run into a buzz saw.

Michigan’s Key to Victory: After reading this preview, one may think that Tennessee is the favorite to win the national championship. Obviously, this is not the case. The Volunteers have very good numbers, but they have not been able to record these types of numbers consistently against elite competition, like the Wolverines. Michigan’s skill and talent level will provide many challenges for this Volunteers squad.

There are two keys for Michigan, and both are on the defensive end. Michigan has the third-best offense in the nation and has proven time and time again that it can score against the best of the best. But Michigan will need to win this game on the defensive end of the court.

First, Michigan needs to pack the paint defensively. Tennessee scores most of its points around the bucket and struggles with its perimeter shooting. By packing the paint, the Wolverines will clog up the spacing inside that Stokes will need to operate effectively. Plus, this will tempt the Volunteers’ outside shooters to fire away. This could be very beneficial for Michigan when Richardson has not been able to find his shot from beyond the arc in his past seven games and when Barton loves to chuck from three-point range despite not being very efficient from there.

Second, by packing this paint, this will make it much more difficult for the Volunteers to crash the offensive glass. All five of Michigan’s players will be closer to the rim when Tennessee’s shots go into the air. This will allow the Wolverines to find a Volunteer to box out much easier and help limit Stokes and Maymon’s second-chance opportunities. If Michigan can limit Tennessee’s possessions to one-and-done, U-M will take away the most effective element of UT’s offense. Therefore, it is imperative that Jordan Morgan keeps Stokes at bay and Glenn Robinson III boxes out Maymon on a consistent basis. If this happens, Michigan likely will walk away as the victors.

Part Two of the Midwest Regional Preview on Louisville and Kentucky will be posted later today.