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Posted on Tue, Mar 15, 2011 : 8:39 p.m.

Tennessee presents the Michigan basketball team with familiar and unique challenges in NCAA tournament

By Rich Rezler

If the allure of the NCAA tournament is watching teams with varying styles and philosophies go head to head, Friday afternoon’s game between Michigan and Tennessee is must-see TV.

Tennessee likes to play fast. Michigan is more patient. Tennessee rebounds. Michigan doesn’t. Tennessee’s defense can be susceptible to 3-point baskets. Michigan likes to shoot them.

As the Wolverines began full-bore preparations for Tennessee on Tuesday, coach John Beilein said his staff would place bubbles over the rims at practice so “no shot can go in and we’ll just box out and box out and box out.”


John Beilein

Beilein, whose team is ranked 249th in the nation in rebound margin, says that aspect of the game could be Tennessee’s biggest strength. The Volunteers average 13 offensive rebounds.

“There are guys that just get there because they’re tall and long. Then there’s young men that have a talent for rebounding -- (John) Fields, (Brian) Williams, (Tobias) Harris all are talented rebounders,” Beilein said. “It’s not just about being big. They seem to have a nose for the ball. That will be difficult for us to guard against.”

By this point in the season, the Wolverines are used to being undersized and at a rebounding disadvantage. What won’t be as familiar is Tennessee’s up-tempo style on the defensive end of the court.

Playing in the Big Ten - “not a high-turnover league,” Beilein said - the Wolverines haven’t seen many defenses that so aggressively attempt to step into passing lanes and turn steals into fast-break layups.

Michigan junior Zack Novak thinks the Wolverines are prepared for the battle on the boards after playing Ohio State, Minnesota, Michigan State and other Big Ten teams that put an emphasis on rebounding. But sophomore guard Darius Morris doesn’t see many other comparisons between the Volunteers and the other teams on the Wolverines’ regular season schedule.

“Maybe their size and length, yeah,” he said. “But not in terms of the way they play with quickness and trying to get extra possessions by pushing the tempo. That's kind of unique.”

JOIN OUR LIVE CHAT FRIDAY sports reporters Michael Rothstein and Rich Rezler will host a live chat from press row at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, N.C., during Friday’s Michigan-Tennessee game.

Chat moderator Pete Cunningham will get things rolling at 12:30 p.m. See you there!

Five hundred miles to the south in Knoxville, Tennessee is busy preparing for Michigan tendencies that the Volunteers haven’t experienced in Southeastern Conference play.

“Michigan is a very, very tough matchup and an interesting opponent,” Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said on the league coaches’ teleconference. “I would say their style of play is as unique as I’ve seen in a long time and John Beilein’s teams can be that way. Extremely well coached, extremely disciplined.”

Pearl said the same size advantage that would lend itself to helping Tennessee on the glass can become a defensive matchup problem.

“They are very difficult to guard because they can put four and sometimes five 3-point shooters out there at the same time,” Pearl said. “They are used to going up against teams with traditional size and then exploiting that size to their advantage.”

The Knoxville News reported that Tennessee’s scout team “enjoyed eye-popping success against the starters while running Beilein’s offense” in a Monday practice, with backups making numerous 3-point shots.

That should be a concern for a Tennessee defense that already allows opponents to make 33.2 percent of their 3-point shots, 115th-best in the nation.

If he sees the 3-point arc as an area of attack, Beilein wasn’t saying so Tuesday afternoon.

“I’ve seen their defense and I don’t see that flaw,” he said. “They create enough turnovers and their defensive numbers are really strong in a league that has a lot of athleticism. So it’s going to be a challenge to score the ball.”

Rich Rezler covers Michigan sports for He can be reached at (734) 623-2551 and via email at



Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 1:01 a.m.

If this game is "must-see TV," why is it only on Tru TV?