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2022 NCAA Tournament Preview: Michigan vs Tennessee

Preview all of Saturday’s Big Ten action.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round - Colorado State vs Michigan Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The 2022 NCAA Tournament will move into the Round of 32 matchups on Saturday and the Big Ten will be featured yet again. Michigan will face off against Tennessee in what figures to be an entertaining game.

Let’s take a look at the slate.

Game of the Day:

-No. 11 Michigan Wolverines vs. No. 3 Tennessee Volunteers

  • Time/TV: 5:15 PM ET (CBS)
  • KenPom Spread: Tennessee by 6

It’s been a tumultuous season for the Wolverines. Despite a loaded recruiting class and a top five preseason ranking, Michigan has spent much of the season searching for consistency and productive role players. The Wolverines will look terrible one week and great the next. It’s how a team that blew out Purdue, beat Iowa on the road, and beat three other Tourney teams in a month ended up sitting at 17-14 on Selection Sunday.

The good news is the time for consistency and resume rankings is over. The Tournament is now here, meaning the focus needs to turn to a “survive and advance” mindset. It doesn’t matter how you look or how much you win by. All that matters is winning. And we saw that mindset out of the Wolverines on Thursday. Despite going down big early against Colorado State, Michigan came roaring back and ended up winning by 12 points. It was a team performance and speaks to Michigan’s potential.

Michigan will now square off against an even better opponent on Saturday in Tennessee. It’s the type of opponent the Wolverines have generally struggled against this season. The Vols are incredibly balanced, boasting an elite defense (second on KenPom) and a solid offense (34th on KenPom) as well. Tennessee also relies on a cast of characters, with six players on the roster boasting usage rates near or above 20 percent. Any player can go off on any given night and the bench can chip in as well.

The matchup to watch is certainly going to be on the offensive side of the floor. Michigan’s offense has shown considerable promise over the last few weeks, but can it score against a loaded Tennessee defense? The Vols dominate the paint and force a ton of turnovers. That’s going to put a lot of pressure on DeVante’ Jones and Hunter Dickinson. Those two will need some of their best games of the year to keep Michigan in this one.

Tennessee’s guards can also shoot the lights out, meaning Michigan is going to have to stick with the team’s shooters on Saturday. That’s been a major challenge for the Wolverines in recent weeks. It’s going to be up to players like Eli Brooks and Jones (assuming he is healthy enough to play) to slow down Tennessee’s backcourt.

Fans should also keep an eye on the matchup between Caleb Houstan and Josiah-Jordan James. Both are generally considered x-factors for their respective teams, so whoever plays better there will likely end up on the winning side. Houstan’s hot and cold streak also has to be mentioned, as the freshman has generally been incredible or a mess from deep over the last month or two. Michigan will be hoping he’s the good version on Saturday.

All told, this looks like quite a challenge for the Wolverines. Tennessee is about as balanced a team as you’ll see this season and enters Saturday without any blatant weaknesses. That means Michigan will need to play mistake-free and get some great performances from role players to pull off the upset. It’s possible, it’s just a lot to ask. We’ll have to wait and see if they can pull it off.

  • Pick: Tennessee