GAME NOTES: Sweet 16 action will commence Friday with a Midwest Regional matchup featuring the rolling 11th-seed Tennessee Volunteers taking on the second-seeded Michigan Wolverines at Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium.
The winner of the contest will advance to the Elite Eight to take on either Louisville or Kentucky for the right to play in the Final Four and represent the Midwest Region.
Tennessee has had the longest road to get to this point, having won three tournament games already. The Vols beat the Hawkeyes in the first round, then took down sixth-seeded UMass in the second round and Mercer in a convincing 83-63 victory in the third round.
Michigan hasn't let up its onslaught yet. The Wolverines easily took down their first two opponents in the tournament with a 57-40 win over SoCon champion Wofford and a 79-65 defeat of Texas in the third round.
The two teams have played 10 times before, and have battled to an even 5-5 all-time series tie.
Mercer took down third-seeded Duke in the second round of the NCAA Tournament - the most surprising upset thus far. But the Volunteers weren't about to let the Bears move any farther through the field, as Tennessee completely dominated on the offensive end. The Vols outrebounded the 14th-seeded Bears, 41-19, in the contest, and had almost as many offensive rebounds (18) as Mercer had in the game (19). Josh Richardson has been the surprise of the tournament for Tennessee, taking over the lead scoring duties. Richardson netted a team-high 26 points in the win, followed by 18 from Antonio Barton, a double-double of 17 points and 18 rebounds by Jarnell Stokes, and Jordan McRae's 14 points.
McRae enters the Sweet 16 matchup against Michigan as the team's leading scorer, although in this tournament the Volunteers have seen a number of different players to lead the team in the scoring department. McRae nets 18.6 ppg, and has dished out a team-high 89 assists through 36 games played. Stokes checks in at second in scoring with 15.2 ppg, adding a team-best 10.7 rpg to his resume. He and McRae top the Volunteers with 34 blocked shots, and are near the team lead in total steals. Richardson rounds out the double-digit scorers for the Vols at 10.1 ppg.
There quite possibly isn't a more dangerous team in the field at the moment in Michigan. The Wolverines have produced solid scoring numbers, and have been playing stellar scoring defense. Against Texas, the Wolverines held the Longhorns to just 37.1 percent shooting in the game, and only allowed the Texas squad to attempt 11 3-point tries. Michigan connected on half of its 28 tries from beyond the arc, and shot 44.4 percent in the lopsided win. Nik Stauskas led the Wolverines with 17 points and eight assists, while Jordan Morgan notched a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Glenn Robinson III and Caris LeVert each netted 14 points in the win.
Stauskas has proven to be an incredibly difficult matchup for opposing defenses, who struggle to contain the 6-foot-6 guard. Stauskas tops Michigan in scoring, chipping in a 17.4 ppg average with a team-best 113 assists. LeVert and Robinson each are scoring 13.1 ppg for the Wolverines, who net an average of 74 ppg. Morgan's 5 rpg mark is a team-best, while his play on both ends of the floor is making Michigan fans forget Mitch McGary has been out for months due to injury.
Tennessee taking on Michigan promises to be an intriguing matchup featuring two of the hottest teams clashing in the Sweet 16. Tennessee's size and proficiency underneath the basket will present matchup problems for Michigan, while the UT guards will struggle to contain Stauskas and LeVert. Tennessee could easily pull another upset in this one, but with their eyes set on getting back to the Final Four, the Wolverines may just be hungrier.
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