On Friday night, the Michigan Wolverines defeated the Tennessee Volunteers 73-71, in turn advancing to the Elite 8 of the 2014 NCAA tournament. And while this will provide something to celebrate for the night, it is clear that based on the actual performance of the Wolverines, that this will be their last victory of the 2013-14 season.
For most of the game, it looked like Michigan was sitting in cruise control, as their efficient ball movement, quick pace and great shooting equated to a 45-34 lead at halftime. For the whole of the night, the team shot 11-of-20 on three-point field goals and 55 percent from the field overall, in the process showing that Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. will burn teams who decide to give them time and space. This shooting impetus has helped the team defeat the likes of Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State, and on this night, it was proven it can also win in the NCAA tournament.
But toward the end of the game, the huge weaknesses of Michigan were exposed for all the world to see, and it can be assured many teams took notice. Over the last 10:56 of the game, the Wolverines were outscored by the Volunteers 26-13, as Tennessee dominated the board game, relentlessly pressed Michigan’s players and generally forced their hand in making poor decisions. It was clear Tennessee should have forced a game won in the trenches from the start, and that this Michigan team can be rattled and forced into turnovers when their hand is pushed.
Thus far in the NCAA tournament, the Wolverines have been aided by playing relatively weak teams in the form of Wofford, Texas and now Tennessee. Each of these teams has made blatant mistakes in both tactics and execution that no other team will be naive enough to make, especially moving forward, and even more so when it comes to allowing the Wolverines’ shooters to continuously receive open and uncontested looks.
Next up will be either Kentucky or Louisville, who surely will have a better game plan in place than the Volunteers did in the Sweet 16, especially since they have dominant interior players and an ability to play an up-tempo defense for 40 minutes. The result of this will be that Michigan will not play another game after the Elite 8, and they will have a poor stretch in the Sweet 16 to thank.