Participating in the NCAA Tournament for his seventh straight season, an embroiled Bruce Pearl brings his Tennessee Volunteers to the Big Dance for their sixth year in a row as they challenge the Michigan Wolverines in the West Region at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte this afternoon.
Coach Pearl, who was suspended for several games to start the SEC slate this year after violating NCAA rules, might be on his last leg with the university given yet another issue that has come to light recently. But for now, the focus is on the players who put together an overall record of 19-14 this season and were an even 8-8 versus the rest of the SEC. The squad has been inconsistent the last five weeks, failing to win back-to-back games since the first week of February when the squad stretched together three straight victories over LSU, Ole Miss and Auburn. In the conference tournament Tennessee, which is the ninth seed in this event, was able to take down Arkansas (74-68), but was then dismissed the following day by 12th-ranked Florida (85-74).
As for the eighth-seeded Wolverines, they're lucky to have even earned an invitation to this tournament, seeing as how they dropped six in a row against Big Ten opponents back in January and finished only 9-9 overall in league play. Michigan did manage to close out the regular season with a pair of wins over Minnesota and Michigan State, and then followed that up with a victory against Illinois in the conference tournament before being bounced by top- ranked Ohio State, 68-61. Over the years, the team has had considerable success in the NCAA Tournament, but has had to slash wins from its total due to NCAA infractions and is now 35-16 with those games erased from the record books. The Wolverines did get to keep their national championship from 1989.
Tennessee has been to the Sweet 16 in three of the last four years, making it to the Elite Eight last year before being dismissed by Michigan State, 70-69, which means the program has an overall record of 16-19 in 18 previous appearances.
As far as the all-time series between these two teams is concerned, Tennessee has won five of the nine meetings, but they haven't met since December of 1985 when Michigan pulled off an 87-52 rout in Ann Arbor. The teams did have a common opponent this year in Oakland University, the winner of the Summit League and coincidentally the 13th seed in this region, with Michigan putting up a 69-51 win at home in the middle of December of the Golden Grizzlies, but UT bowing at home, 89-82, four days prior.
The winner of today's matchup will be back in action on Sunday in the third round versus the survivor of the Hampton/Duke battle.
Scotty Hopson leads the Vols in scoring this season with his 17.4 ppg, making him one of the more productive players in the SEC in fact. Hopson has made good on 37.7 percent of his three-point attempts and has had more overall success out on the perimeter than anyone else on the roster. However, if there's a problem with his game its the fact that he has more than twice as many turnovers (86) as he does assists (41) in the 31 games in which he has appeared. Tobias Harris is credited with 15.2 ppg, which means between the two of them they've accounted for close to half of the team's 70.6 ppg, so it might be a bit easier for the Wolverines to figure out who to key on when they set up on defense. Harris is also second on the glass with 7.3 rpg, trailing only Brian Williams (7.7 rpg) who did his damage starting just 14 of 31 games this year. Then again, having Williams on the floor might not always be the best move for Tennessee because he shoots a mere 51.3 percent at the free- throw line.
If you're looking for a player who can do it all, Michigan's Darius Morris is your man. Averaging close to 35 minutes per game, Morris not only leads the Wolverines in scoring (15.2 ppg) and assists (220) this season, he also became just the third player in program history to record a triple-double as he registered 12 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds in an 87-73 win over Iowa on January 30th at home. Just a sophomore, Morris has taken a huge leap from last season when he averaged just 4.4 points and 2.6 rebounds per outing. Perhaps the only knock on Morris at the moment is his 26.7 percent accuracy behind the three-point line, an effort that will have to most certainly be worked on in the coming years. The other double-digit scorer for Michigan is Tim Hardaway Jr. who is credited with 13.9 ppg and has made good on a team-best 74 three- pointers in 33 starts. Jordan Morgan (9.2 ppg) and Zack Novak (8.7 ppg) are two of the better rebounders on the squad with a combined 11.2 per game, but still this is a team that comes up with just 32.0 rpg and relies more on defense which has held opponents to only 62.7 ppg this season.
Perhaps the Tennessee players might see this as the last hurrah for coach Pearl and play with a sense of purpose, but even if they do the Wolverines will not be impressed.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Michigan 68, Tennessee 63