Since Mitch McGary went down early in the season the Michigan Wolverines have gotten fairly accustomed to the role of underdog. Even as the higher seeded team in Friday’s Sweet-16 match-up much of the talk revolves around the difficulty the Maize & Blue might have dealing with Tennessee’s size. That’s just more fuel for the motivational fire.
“It's kind of just like it's a challenge,” said Jordan Morgan. “They're obviously very good down low, and they've got a lot of size and great rebounders. That's kind of just what this is all about, is stepping up and trying to face those challenges, succeed or not. It's just an opportunity to prove yourself as a player and as a team.”
Both Morgan and the team he leads did just that through a rigorous conference slate that included battles with fellow Sweet-16 participants Michigan State and Wisconsin. The proving ground that is the Big Ten prepared them for the Volunteers’ style of play.
“I think they are a pretty good comparison what we would see in the Big Ten with their physicality in the paint, and on top of that they've got really good scorers on the perimeter,” Morgan stated. “That's pretty much what we see in the Big Ten. So it's going to be one of those type of games, and we've been through a lot of battles with teams in the Big Ten, so we look forward to going out there and playing again.”
That sentiment permeates throughout the entire team. It’s not a cocky bunch, but they are unflinchingly confident.
We had (experience) facing teams that had a little bit of length, especially in the Big Ten, on the perimeter,” Glenn Robinson III said. “Also they have a bunch of big guys who can get work done inside. So we faced that. A lot of people said the same thing about Texas. I think that it will just come down to will, just like the same game as last time. You know, will, how bad do we want it. We have to go out there with the right mindset and I think we prepared well and I think the coaches did a great job on the scout.
“I think the length they have is very unique, and it's going to pose some problems,” Nik Stauskas added. “But at the same time, I feel the way we've been able to run our offense throughout this whole season, really our success is just based off of how we're playing that specific day. Obviously they can do some things to maybe blow a few plays up, but I feel like if we play our basketball and stick to our main concepts we'll be all right.”
That’s the approach Stauskas plans to take when facing the Vols’ ace defender, Josh Richardson.
“From what I've seen on film and what I've heard, he's a really good defender,” said Stauskas. “But that's nothing new. I've been facing really good defenders all year long throughout the Big Ten season. I think I've done a good job of adjusting to different ways that teams have been playing me. My teammates and coaches have done a great job of helping me adjust to those kind of things. I'm sure tomorrow will be just another adjustment that I have to make.”
As a coach renowned for his x’s & o’s acumen, John Beilein shares his team’s enthusiasm in embracing its latest challenge. He loves the chess match involved between teams with contrasting styles like Michigan and Tennessee.
“I think there's sometimes that matchups are really important… and sometimes I don't think they mean a darn thing,” said Beilein. “So there's going to be times in this game where it's going to be a one-on-one situation, and who's playing who, and how well they can guard the other guy. There's tremendous matchups in just in rebounding, etc… but the actions they do, the actions we do, they negate a lot of those matchups. Because both teams basically are trying to create leverage for their players, where a matchup is now a guy is one step behind. It's not, ‘hey, this is going to be a one-on-one.’ No, we're trying to get leverage. Cuonzo is trying to get leverage for his team. So it's not one-on-one, it's one on half of one, and everybody's gotta rotate.”
Glenn Robinson III on being back home in Indiana playing in the Sweet 16 instead of Indiana or Purdue: “Michigan recruited me harder than Purdue and Indiana. They believed in me and the rest of these guys up here, these two harder than any other school, I believe. So at one time they believed in all of us more than we believed in ourselves at times. They seen the potential we all had. I thought they did a great job. I love the coaching staff and my teammates.”