Sweet matchup: UT vs. Michigan

No one offers better coverage of Vol hoops than InsideTennessee. Sign in or sign up to read this in-depth preview of tonight's Sweet 16 game between Tennessee and Michigan:

It's probably appropriate that two schools best known for their gridiron programs, Tennessee and Michigan, meet tonight in basketball's Sweet 16 at a football stadium.

Designed for football, cavernous Lucas Oil Stadium has a retractable roof that converts the facility into a 40,000-seat basketball arena. This is great for fans; not so great for perimeter shooters. The distance from backboard to seats is significantly greater than in a typical basketball arena, so depth perception can be a problem for guys launching long-range jump shots.

So, how does a player adjust?

"There's no adjustment," Tennessee guard Jordan McRae said. "You've got to be ready to go unless you're going to put a court out there in Neyland (Stadium) or something. There's no other way to get ready for it."

Fellow guard Josh Richardson agrees that the backdrop at non-basketball facilities such as Lucas Oil Stadium is vastly different than the backdrop at a typical college gym.

"I think it's blaring out the fact that you're in a giant dome," he said. "But I think part of it's mental. It's the same type of basketball goal. It (key) is just not worrying about what's in the backdrop when you're shooting and just focusing on the game."

Still, history tells us that shooters often struggle in cavernous arenas.

"It's definitely kind of weird when you first start shooting," Richardson conceded. "After we work the little kinks out I think we'll be fine."

Vol point guard Antonio Barton says preparation becomes especially vital when a team is getting ready to play in an unorthodox setting.

"The key is just getting there early, getting some shots up, trying to find a rhythm," he said. "Hopefully, we can find one during the game. That's all it is – getting some shots up."

Since shooting in a domed stadium requires some refinements, making those refinements early – preferably before tipoff – is crucial.

"You've just got to shoot a certain way: Either arc it high or aim it," Barton said. "You've just got to find that stroke on the rims."

Perhaps you're wondering: Is shooting in a non-basketball facility really that different? Yes, it is.

McRae shot 37.6 percent from 3-point range during the regular season. In two SEC Tournament games at the Georgia Dome (a football facility adapted for basketball), he shot just 25 percent (2 for 8) from 3. Richardson, who shot 37.0 percent from 3 during the regular season, went 0 for 4 in two games at The Georgia Dome. Barton, who shot 35.5 percent from 3 during the regular season, also went 0 for 4 in The Georgia Dome.

On a positive note, playing two games in the spacious Georgia Dome just two weeks ago may have helped prepare the Vols for equally spacious Lucas Oil Stadium.

"It did," McRae said. "Domes are hard to shoot in sometimes because the background is nothing but I think those games (in the Georgia Dome) helped us out."

Barton agrees, noting: "That helps a lot. That gets us prepared for the (Lucas Oil) stadium because the stands are not directly behind the rims. We're used to it. We played there for the SEC Tournament, so we should know what to expect."

Here's another positive for the Big Orange: Although Tennessee projects to be affected by the unusual backdrop at Lucas Oil Stadium, Michigan projects to be even more impacted. Whereas the Vols attempted just 31.1 percent of their field goals (620 of 1,991) from 3-point range this season, Michigan has attempted 4.03 percent of its shots (756 of 1,876) from beyond the arc.

Tennessee gets a lot of its scoring from 6-foot-8, 260-pound bruisers Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon within five feet of the basket, where depth perception is not an issue. That suggests playing in a converted football stadium will pose fewer problems for the Vols than the Wolverines, who rely much more heavily on perimeter scoring.

CAN THE VOLS HANDLE SUCCESS?

Given up for dead after two losses to Texas A&M left them with a 17-11 overall record and a 7-7 SEC mark on Feb. 22, the Vols became the ultimate underdog and won eight of nine since then.

The obvious question: Has success changed the Big Orange?

"No," Maymon said. "You've got to keep the same mentality that got you there … you know, stick with what works."

"At this point we're confident," McRae said, "but we're not overconfident. We know all of the teams we're playing are great teams."

Asked if Tennessee's confidence was shaken during a disappointing regular season, McRae paused thoughtfully before answering: "During some of the losses our confidence never wavered. But as the season went on – losing to A&M – we just got a little more worried."

<A HREF=http://tennessee.scout.com/>Tennessee</A>
McRAE
Tennessee began the 2013-14 season amid lofty expectations. Despite some awful performances during the regular season, the Vols felt they were capable of making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

"I think everybody did," McRae said. "With the individual talent we have, it was just a matter of bringing it all together. We brought it together at the right time."

The Vols are an excited bunch these days. Even head coach Cuonzo Martin posted a "selfie" from the locker room after Tennessee trounced Mercer to earn its Sweet 16 berth. This was wildly out of character for Martin, who showed very little emotion during the ups and downs of the regular season.

"I think it's great to have a coach like that: He's the same way every day," Richardson said. "When he shows emotion like he did after these last couple of games, it makes it that much better. It makes you appreciate it more."

GAME NOTES: The second-seeded Wolverines bring a 27-8 record into tonight's game. The 11-seeded Vols are 24-12 but have won eight of their last nine…. Jarnell Stokes is averaging 20.3 points and 15.0 rebounds per game through the Vols' first three NCAA Tournament games. He has 22 double-doubles this year, matching the school record set by Bernard King in 1976-77 and tying Kentucky's Julius Randle for the 2013-14 NCAA lead.… Tennessee has shot 49.1 percent from the field and 82.8 from the foul line in its first three NCAA Tournament games…. Cuonzo Martin's roommate at Purdue from 1991-94, Glenn Robinson, is the father of Michigan starter Glenn Robinson III…. Tonight's tipoff is set for 7:15 with television coverage provided by CBS.


Inside Tennessee Top Stories