INDIANAPOLIS — Who knew that a round of 32 game could feel like a Final Four type atmosphere? This was the case on Saturday night, with a sold-out crowd watching the slugfest between 3-seed Tennessee and 11-seed Michigan.
In the end it was the Wolverines pulling out the win 76-68, in front of a mostly pro-Tennessee crowd.
It was the coming out party to the rest of college basketball just how good Kennedy Chandler really was. This game turned into a Chandler exhibition in the second half, while his teammates struggled to find any type of rhythm on offense. The Vols were 2-15 from three-point range at the 2:35 mark of the second half, struggling to find anything but a layup.
It was a game in which the Vols never looked comfortable on offense, only getting anything from Chandler, as his teammates were struggling to find anything from inside the paint or outside the arc. This was not the Tennessee team we’ve seen for the better part of the season, it was different. They were sucked into the game plan of Michigan and they never got out of the hole. You can put this game on a lot of folks, but not having an answer for when things aren’t hitting from behind the arc is inexcusable.
Kennedy Chandler was the player tonight who took the next step for himself, but it was more about his team postgame. Coach Rick Barnes talked about how much of a factor Chandler was during tonight’s matchup, especially driving the basket.
“Kennedy did a great job. They really didn’t have an answer for him going downhill… I would have liked to see us do a little more inside… But give them credit. They made the plays there at the end.
“He’s grown tremendously, as a great kid and a teammate. He never walked in as a one and done player,” Barnes added. “If you saw his emotion, it was much more than that in the locker room. He got so much better, and that had to do with his teammates.”
Tennessee tried to use Uros Plavsic to control Hunter Dickinson tonight, but that didn’t work. Dickinson went off for 27 points and 11 rebounds, causing problems all evening for the Vols in the paint. Even when Tennessee would try to switch off and let Fulkerson or Jonas Aidoo guard him, nothing was changing.
The Vols scored 20 points off 15 Michigan turnovers, and put themselves in a nice position with just over eight minutes to go. A six-point cushion for Tennessee with 8:37 left, with nothing falling behind the arc, and yet they still had the lead. But it was the Michigan run that was going to end the season for the Vols.
Led by Eli Brooks, the Wolverines went on a 14-4 run on the Vols, taking the 68-64 lead with just over 2 minutes remaining, never looking back. It was the nightmare that Tennessee fans were hoping wouldn’t occur, but it happened. I don’t think many would’ve thought this Rick Barnes-led squad would come out and fall into the trap that Michigan laid, but I will say that the open shots were there. As bad as the scoreboard and stat sheet looked, but it was crazy to think the Vols actually had a lead.
Michigan’s Terrance Williams broke it down perfectly when it came to guarding the Vols tonight.
“That was mostly in the game plan, guarding the perimeter. They had shooters, their guard play, Vescovi is definitely a big shooter. But one of the of game plans was to guard the three-point line. I felt like we did our job today in guarding that three-point line. They went 2 for 18, and I think we did our part.”
But this also looked like the Tennessee team we’ve seen all season long when it comes to offensive woes. Going five minutes without a basket, shooting the worst percentage from three-point range all season long and the Wolverines shooting 50 percent from the field will cause you to start spring break early. This is what happened on Saturday night. There’s nothing else, nothing more, it was just a bad night to have a bad night shooting.
There also seemed to be a fight out of Michigan that the Vols were having a hard time reciprocating late in the game. Maybe it was the momentum or maybe it was the emotion of the Wolverines over the final four minutes, but they outhustled a team that rarely gets outhustled.
There will now be a lot of fans of Tennessee basketball who will be rightfully pissed off, wondering if this school will ever take the next step with all the talent that they have. It’s hard to think that this Tennessee team won’t go further with a player like Kennedy Chandler, who finished with 19 points and 9 assists.
Juwan Howard discussed his decision to go zone, and the effect it had on Kennedy Chandler.
“It definitely helped keep Kennedy Chandler as well as Zeigler out of the paint. Like I mentioned earlier, they’re very smart, crafty, fast guards that do a very good job of getting in the paint, making plays at the rim.”
But we are here and now the chatter will begin. For a team with so much talent, heading home in the second round should not be the end result for this season. Michigan deserved to be heading onto the Sweet 16, while the Vols shot themselves to an early exit.
Now going forward this team will look a bit different, especially when Chandler decides to turn pro and John Fulkerson cleans out his locker for the final time.
This game of basketball is cruel and tonight proved that narrative for Tennessee, who are left wondering “what if” again.