Tennessee players celebrate near the end of their third-round win against Mercer Sunday, in Raleigh. Tennessee Won 83-63.
MILWAUKEE — The University of Michigan men’s basketball team now prepares to face a team that’s become a March upstart.
The Wolverines will face Tennessee on Friday in the NCAA tournament’s Sweet Sixteen at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis — and Tennessee is on a tear. After a stretch in February in which it went 2-4, the Volunteers have won eight of their last nine games, including an overtime win over Iowa in a play-in game last week in Dayton.
Sunday night in Raleigh, the No. 11 Volunteers (24-12) beat No. 14 Mercer — the Atlantic Sun Conference’s representative, which beat college basketball blue-blood Duke in a first-round game — to reach the program’s first Sweet Sixteen since 2010.
The Wolverines (27-8) defeated No. 15 Wofford and No. 7 Texas this weekend at the Bradley Center. Less than a year removed from playing in the national championship game, they’re the No. 2 seed in the Midwest region but can’t escape a certain perception.
“At this point, I think people like to kind of say that we can't accomplish things,” said forward Jordan Morgan, who had 15 points and 10 assists in Saturdays win over No. 7 Texas. “We embrace that.”
Morgan had a breakthrough game at forward, and Michigan’s long-range shooting was on point as the Wolverines finished with four players in double figures: Morgan, Glenn Robinson III (14 points), and guards Nik Stauskas (17) and Caris LeVert (14).
“If we play the way we practice, we have lot of pass serves and have a lot of shooters,” said Michigan coach John Beilein, who earned his 700th win on Saturday. “And so if you look, if you get into the lane, we had a couple just beautiful plays where we got in the lane, landed on two, and we found open people or found a different shot for ourselves, something we work on endlessly.
"So there's some big points [Saturday] where what they practiced transferred over to a game.”
Morgan’s presence in the paint was key for the Wolverines. Against Texas, the Wolverines neutralized the Longhorns’ inside game and got a stellar first-half shooting effort en route to taking an 18-point lead.
A 15-for-28 shooting effort in the first half buoyed the Wolverines in the second, as Texas cut the lead to eight with six minutes left — with the help of its inside players, who found their footing against Morgan in the second half.
Tennessee boasts an inside presence similar to that of Texas in 6-foot-8, 260-pound junior Jarnell Stokes and 6-foot-8, 260-pound redshirt senior Jeronne Maymon.
Stokes followed up a 26-point, 14-rebound effort in Tennessee’s 86-67 upset Friday of No. 6 Massachusetts with 17 points and 18 rebounds Sunday against Mercer. By comparison, Mercer had 19 team rebounds.
Stokes was one of four Volunteers to score in double figures.
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