Michigan’s bid for a second straight trip to the Final Four is entering the second weekend of the NCAA tournament as the second-seeded Wolverines cruised through to the Sweet 16.
The road gets a little tougher at the Midwest regional on Friday, when Michigan faces Tennessee in Indianapolis. The 11th-seeded Volunteers were perhaps the most impressive team of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, rolling over Massachusetts and Mercer by a combined 39 points.
Tennessee needed to sneak past the Big Ten’s Iowa in overtime in the first round just to make the field of 64 but wasted little time proving it belonged. Jarnell Stokes is averaging 20.3 points and 15 rebounds in the Volunteers’ three NCAA tournament games and will need all the points he can find to keep up with Wolverines stars Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III. Michigan used its defense to overwhelm Wofford 57-40 in its tournament opener but found another gear offensively in cruising past Texas 79-65 in the round of 32.
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ABOUT TENNESSEE (24-12): Tennessee has won eight of its last nine games - with the lone setback coming to top-ranked Florida - but Stokes is still keeping a chip on his shoulder.
“I’ve received a lot of attention everywhere I go, and I’m sort of salty about it, I would say,” Stokes told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “I’m sort of mad about it, because it’s people I’ve been seeing all this time and they’re all, ‘Hey Jarnell.’ Now when they see me, they get a little more excited.”
Stokes is getting plenty of help from Josh Richardson, who has bumped his scoring average more than 10 points to 19.3 in the tournament, as well as Jordan McRae as they aim for the second regional final in school history.
ABOUT MICHIGAN (27-8): Wolverines forward Jordan Morgan grabbed 10 rebounds in each of the first two tournament games and will be tasked with keeping Stokes off the boards on Thursday. Morgan being active on the inside opens up space on the perimeter for Stauskas, who buried four 3-pointers against Texas as Michigan went 14 of 28 from beyond the arc. The Wolverines have experience on their side after making it all the way to the NCAA championship game last season and are just as hot as the Volunteers with nine wins in the last 10 games.
1. Stauskas handed out a career-high eight assists against Texas.
2. Stokes has recorded 21 double-doubles on the season and is shooting 56.2 percent from the field in the NCAA tournament.
3. The winner will play Louisville or Kentucky in the regional final.