The 2022 NCAA Tournament rolled into the weekend on Saturday with a full day of action in the Round of 32. The Big Ten only had one team participating in the slate, but it was an intriguing matchup between Michigan and Tennessee.
Let’s take a look at what happened.
Game of the Night:
-No. 11 Michigan Wolverines 76, No. 3 Tennessee Volunteers 68
It’s been a tumultuous season for the Wolverines. Despite a loaded recruiting class and a top five preseason ranking, Michigan spent much of the season searching for consistency and productive role players. It turned what was expected to be another banner year into a saga where the Wolverines had to scratch and claw to even make the NCAA Tournament. And even though the team made the NCAA Tournament, people were still debating whether Michigan deserved to make the cut on Selection Sunday:
Oh, man. This is an all-timer. pic.twitter.com/dmN1QirzeF— Thomas Beindit (@tbeindit) March 20, 2022
Fortunately for Wolverine fans, the team capitalized on its opportunity. Michigan knocked off Colorado State on Thursday, setting up a showdown with Tennessee on Saturday. Unlike the Wolverines, the consensus around the Volunteers had been about the team’s poor treatment from the Selection Committee. In fact, some in the media were suggesting Tennessee had been underseeded even after Thursday’s results:
Weird. Its almost like Tennessee was the best team in the SEC and should have been seeded as such.— Chris Fallica (@chrisfallica) March 18, 2022
All that drama set up what figured to be a one-sided affair on Saturday, with Tennessee entering as a significant favorite and hoping to earn its first Sweet 16 bid since 2019.
However, Michigan had other thoughts.
The Wolverines not only played the Vols straight up, but came out of the gates firing. Michigan jumped out to a solid lead in the opening minutes and kept the pressure on from there. And while Tennessee came back right before halftime, Michigan recovered in the second half and controlled the final minutes of the game en route to a 76-68 win. Hunter Dickinson led the way with 27 points and 11 rebounds.
Michigan’s defense also impressed. The Wolverines have been a mess for much of the season on that side of the ball, but held up well on Saturday. Tennessee seemed out of sync all night and connected on little from outside the arc. A major part of that was Michigan’s impressive game plan and its defensive close outs.
The win pushed Michigan to 19-14 overall and into the program’s fifth straight Sweet 16. It’s not only a program best, but sets an all-time Big Ten record and passing a handful of schools who had previously achieved four straight. It’s an incredible achievement in Ann Arbor and speaks volumes to see Michigan pass marks previously held by coaches like Tom Izzo and Bob Knight. We’ll have to see if Michigan can add to that next weekend.
Who Michigan will face next week remains to be seen, but it will begin with either Ohio State or Villanova. The Buckeyes and Wildcats face off on Sunday and the winner will face off against the Wolverines. Frankly, either matchup would be enticing. You’re either getting a rivalry game in the Sweet 16 or a rematch of the 2018 national championship game.