Physically at least, Coach John Beilein's Wolverines are a virtual clone of Bruce Pearl's 2007 Tennessee team. Like the '07 Vols, the Wolverines start one post player and four guards. Like the '07 Vols, the Wolverines rely heavily on 3-point shooting to offset their lack of size.
Michigan's starting post player is Jordan Morgan, a 6-8, 240-pounder. That's the same height and weight as Tennessee's 2007 starter, Wayne Chism. Michigan's other starters are Zack Novak, Tim Hardaway, Stu Douglas and point guard Darius Morris.
Novak (6-4, 210) is a physical match for '07 Vol Dane Bradshaw (6-4, 210). Hardaway (6-5, 185) is similar to '07 Vol JaJuan Smith (6-3, 190). Douglas (6-3, 190) is similar in body type to '07 Vol Chris Lofton (6-2, 197) and point guard Darius Morris (6-4, 190) is cast from the same mold as '07 Vol point guard Ramar Smith (6-2, 185).
Just as the Vols relied heavily on 3-pointers in 2007 (making 9.3 per game), the Wolverines have relied heavily on treys in 2011 (making 8.1 per game).
"They make eight 3s a ballgame, so Kentucky is probably the one team in our league that shoots it as well as they do," Pearl said this week. "Eight 3-balls per game made is a lot."
The major difference between the 2007 Vols and the 2011 Wolverines is tempo. The '07 Vols played fullcourt defense and transition offense, resulting in a fast pace and an 80.9 points-per-game scoring average. Conversely, Beilein's 2011 Wolverines play a more deliberate style of offense, averaging just 66.1 points per game.
"I would imagine we'll see some 1-3-1, which historically he's known for," Pearl said earlier this week. "And I would imagine we'll see some really smart man-to-man, where he'll take a look at what we do. It won't take him very long to figure out what our strengths are and what our weaknesses are."
Tennessee's greatest weaknesses are inconsistent effort and focus. When the Vols play hard and smart, they can beat anyone in college basketball. When their energy and intensity wane, however, they are vulnerable.
Asked about the Vols' inconsistency, junior wing Scotty Hopson replied: "It's hard to explain. We've just got to start playing 40 minutes of good basketball. That's the key to winning - just playing a total, complete game. I don't have no excuse for it. It's hard to explain."
Even harder to explain is the timing of an interview athletics director Mike Hamilton gave with Knoxville radio station WNML this week. Aired mere minutes after the Vols departed by bus for Charlotte on Wednesday afternoon, the interview featured several Hamilton comments which seem to indicate that administrative support for Pearl is not as strong as it once was.
Even a team with exceptional maturity and focus would struggle to cope with a distraction of that magnitude. A team with the child-like attention span of the 2011 Vols may simply go through the motions today in Charlotte.
Still, the next loss will be Tennessee's last, so maybe the Vols can muster what's left of their focus and intensity for one last shot at salvaging this season.
"It's win or go home now," senior point guard Melvin Goins said earlier this week, "so we have to play with that type of focus and mindset."
GAME NOTES: Today's tipoff is set for 12:40 Eastern, with television coverage provided by TruTV.... Eighth-seeded Michigan brings a 20-13 record into the game, ninth-seeded Tennessee a 19-14 record.... Tennessee has a 1-2 all-time record as a No. 9 seed. The Vols beat Southwestern Louisiana 61-57, then lost to No. 1 seed Virginia 54-51 in 1982. Tennessee lost to No. 8 seed Oklahoma State 77-75 in 2009.... Pearl has a 9-7 record in Div. I NCAA Tournament games. After going 1-2 in four seasons at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, he stands 8-5 through his first five-plus seasons at Tennessee, with two Sweet 16s and one Elite Eight. Pearl went 16-8 in Div. II NCAA Tournament action at Southern Indiana, with a national title in 1995 and a runnerup finish in '94.... Tennessee is at its best when the Vols are forcing turnovers. That will be a challenge today, since Michigan commits just 10.1 turnovers per game on average.... The winner between Tennessee and Michigan advances to the Round of 32 on Sunday. The opponent will be the winner between top-seeded Duke (30-4) and 16th-seeded Hampton (24-8).