The Michigan team that Tennessee faces in the NCAA Sweet 16 Friday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis features four marksmen of similar caliber. First-team All-American Nik Stauskas is hitting 45.1 percent from 3 and averaging 17.4 points per game. Caras LeVert is hitting 41.0 percent and averaging 13.1 points per game. Derrick Walton is shooting 40.8 percent and averaging 8.1 points per game. Reserve Zak Irvin is shooting 40.8 percent and averaging 6.7 points per game.
And consider this: Whereas Lofton, Watson and Smith stood 6-feet-2, 6-feet-2 and 6-feet-2, all of the Wolverine sharpshooters stand 6-feet-6 except for Walton, who checks in at 6-feet-1.
Clearly, Michigan's perimeter scoring is an overwhelming concern for Tennessee.
"They shoot it very well. We have to contest that line," Vol coach Cuonzo Martin conceded. "But the thing about it is, when you get them off the line they can make plays off the dribble. They run their plays, and it's almost like you would like for them to score out of their set plays because when the set plays break down, they have four guys that can take you off the dribble and make plays and make shots."
One factor working in Tennessee's favor on Friday is that the Vols faced a similarly perimeter-oriented team the last time they took the floor.
"I think it was good for us to play against a Mercer team that runs those sets and is a good 3-point shooting team," Martin said. "You have to limit their rotations. If you're constantly rotating against a Mercer, then a Michigan team is going to be a long night for you. (To) really limit the rotations, the one-on-one defense has to be really good for us."
Because of some lopsided wins the past few weeks, 11 seed Tennessee (24-12) is a mere two-point underdog to the 2 seed Wolverines (27-8). The Vols aren't getting too cocky, however. They have a healthy respect for Michigan's offensive capabilities.
"Michigan likes to shoot the ball," junior post Jarnell Stokes said. "Sadly, teams like that can be hot on any night. Sometimes you have to be a little bit lucky – hoping they don't hit a lot of shots, hoping they get off to a slow start."
The Wolverines tend to go as Stauskas goes. He was 4 of 14 from the field in the regular-season finale at Michigan State, and his team lost 69-55. When he's on, however, there may not be a better shooter in college hoops.
"When he decides to leave there is no doubt in my mind that he will play at the NBA level," Martin said. "At 6-6, he can really shoot the ball. He can put the ball on the floor. Watching it last year he is more of a catch and shoot. Now he puts the ball on the floor, makes plays, comes more off the ball screen, gets around the rim and dunks the ball on you, goes over on top of you, makes decisions out of that ball screen. I guess that's why he's the Big Ten Player of the Year in a league that is so tough and so physical."
The task of guarding Stauskas most of the time will fall to Josh Richardson, a 6-foot-6 Vol junior who normally draws the toughest perimeter defensive assignment each game. He's eager for the challenge.
"Nik Stauskas is a great player," Richardson said. "He shoots 3s. He drives to the hole. He can pretty much do everything. It'll be a tough cover. I think their offense pretty much flows through him. He leads ‘em in points and assists, so it'll be crucial to try to get him out of his rhythm."
Though impressed, Richardson isn't intimidated.
"It's just another player," he said. "I've been guarding guys like that for a while now, so it's nothing new."
Another Vol who will be called upon to contain Michigan's perimeter scorers is Jordan McRae, a 6-foot-6 senior wing.
"I watched them throughout the year just to watch, and they're really hard to guard," McRae said. They start four guards and they can all shoot. That's going to be a good test for us."
Because the Wolverines start four guards, Tennessee post Jeronne Maymon occasionally will be forced to leave the paint and defend on the perimeter. At 6-feet-8 and 260 pounds, he may struggle to contend with the agility of Michigan's guards. By the same token, Michigan's guards may struggle to contend with his heft in the paint.
"We have an advantage on the glass and they think they have a mismatch between Glenn (Robinson) and Jeronne," McRae said. "We also think we have a mismatch between Jeronne and Glenn, so it will be interesting to see what they do."
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