Videos by OutKick
INDIANAPOLIS — If you were wondering what type of matchup Tennessee will get against Michigan on Saturday night, you’re not alone. The rollercoaster of a season for the Wolverines continues to play out, this time after beating 6 seeded Colorado State on Thursday. This is the same team that was bounced from their conference tournament in their first game last week. So if you’re trying to pinpoint the matchup between the Vols and Wolverines, good luck to you.
What exactly is the focal point for Saturday’s matchup? For the Vols, it’s how to guard Hunter Dickinson. The 7-foot-2 monster will likely cause problems for the Vols and force Uros Plavsic and others to clog up the paint, just like they did to Walker Kessler of Auburn in the regular season. Though the Vols let Jabari Smith get his, they did a great job of making Kessler uncomfortable, forcing the guards to pick up the slack.
Could the Vols pull the same type of move on Saturday? It depends on how they guard DeVante’ Jones, if he plays, or Frankie Collins. The Wolverines were down 15 points to Colorado State and then made an incredible comeback. So getting the Wolverines down is possible, but keeping them there is key. This is where the leadership of Santiago Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James will play a key factor.
Michigan head coach Juwan Howard was very complimentary of Kennedy Chandler and discussed the growth he has seen from him this year.
“Kennedy is a special, special player, one of the best point guards in college basketball, in my opinion. The way he’s able to make immediate impact right out of high school into the college level, that’s impressive… (I) looked at his shooting. His shooting has gotten better. He shoots 40+ percent from three. He’s always known as a playmaker, a guy that can get downhill and can make plays for others.
“He’s a high IQ player, he has the same face. I call it the Kawhi Leonard or the Tim Duncan face,” Howard added. “He never seems to get rattled or frustrated, from what I’ve noticed. I’ve been impressed with how he’s mentally stable when things are going good or bad”
Juwan Howard says he will rely on defense to contain the trio of Tennessee backcourt players.
“Well, they’re a very good team. What I’ve seen is, I mentioned earlier, they have great size, good inside play, protectors, they have shooting from all over the floor, whether they’re perimeter or primary ball handler or from Chandler or Zeigler. They also have wings, and they have a great coach (Rick Barnes). He’s had a lot of success in college basketball over his years in different programs.
“They play in a tough conference, which is the SEC,” Howard added. “They face teams like Kentucky and many others, so I’m expecting it’s going to be a very competitive game tomorrow. But yes, in the Big Ten we have had a lot of competitive teams that we have faced that are pretty good too. It would be nothing new to us when it comes to facing size and facing shooting.”
This game will come down to how Tennessee plays defensively, whether they can force turnovers on Michigan. When asked what the Vols do on defense that causes so many mistakes, Howard focused on the many different types of coverages they put on the court, which have confused opponents this season.
“Defensively, they throw a lot of coverages at you. Sometimes, they will throw two to the ball and blitz. Sometimes, they will have a soft blitz. There are moments when they put bigs in the drop coverage. They also will switch, 1-5 depending on line-ups they have in there. I’ve also saw some zone they have played.
“With those different types of coverages, at times they can either speed you up and cause confusion out there on the floor, some will get you out of the timing of your sets, some of the scoring opportunities that you want to score, whether it’s inside or outside,” Howard added. “But the key with us, we can’t overthink it.”
Keeping up with players like Santiago Vescovi won’t be easy, as Juwan Howard knows. There’s never a time when Tennessee has the ball that he’s not moving from corner to corner. There’s a constant flow of passing and finding lanes. When asked about what makes Vescovi special, Juwan Howard pointed to his ability to keep moving and cause chaos.
“He moves great without the basketball. His feet is always moving. Kind of reminds me of a guy like JJ Redick, also Duncan Robinson, Clay Thompson, Ray Allen, Reggie Miller. That’s pretty special, because obviously he has to have great conditioning, and you can see that he worked on it. But then to be able to read how the defense is playing and whether they’re locking and trailing, how to curl it, or if a guy shoots the gap how to step back and shoot the jumper.”
Saturday night will present one of the toughest challenges for Michigan this season, as Tennessee is playing on another level at the moment.