Under Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, the Volunteers have never failed to have a 20-win season. Coming into Friday’s matchup with Michigan, the Volunteers are only one win shy of that mark.
This is Tennessee’s sixth-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance — the ninth-longest streak in NCAA Division I basketball. Both teams received at large bids to the NCAA Tournament and are looking forward to a third-round matchup with Duke. But before thinking about the Blue Devils, the Wolverines will need to focus on the Volunteers. Here’s what their starting lineups have to offer.
Point guard: Melvin Goins vs. Darius Morris: The 5-foot-11 senior is the shortest scholarship player to play for Tennessee under Pearl. As the team’s point guard he only averages three assists a game, and in the Volunteers’ last two games he was held to one assist each. The California native also averages a team-best two steals a game. While he may be undersized, Goins has the team’s best vertical (41 inches) and broad jump (10 feet, eight inches).
Sophomore Darius Morris will have a home state matchup on his hands when he takes on Goins, but expect Morris to thrive in the postseason and take down Goins as his first victim. Not to mention, Morris’ five inch advantage won’t hurt.
Wing: Scotty Hopson vs. Stu Douglass: Junior Scotty Hopson leads the Volunteers in scoring with 17 points, while playing just 30 minutes a game. The 6-foot-7 guard has good size and quickness and has the ability to get to the free throw line, where he shoots 74 percent. His ability to get to the rim is complemented by his outside shooting — 45 percent from the floor — which makes defenders honest when guarding him. This past summer he was one of 20 college basketball players to play for the USA Basketball Men’s Select Team.
As highly touted of a player as he is, the junior seems to wax and wane on the statistics sheet. In Tennessee’s last two games he showed both sides. Against Florida on March 11, he had 19 points and got to the free-throw line six times, but he also had seven turnovers. The previous day, against Arkansas, the guard scored just eight points, turned the ball over four times and didn’t manage to make his way to the charity stripe. If Hopson shows up to play in the big dance, junior Stu Douglass will have his hands full.
Wing: Josh Bone vs. Tim Hardaway Jr.: Bone spent his first two years of college basketball at Southern Illinois, but gave up his scholarship there to be a junior walk on with the Volunteers last season. His fierce guard play earned him a full scholarship this year, and though this 6-foot-3 senior spent the first 11 games injured this season, he’s been a main contributor for Tennessee. He’s the probable starter this Friday, but it will be just his fourth start of the season. Pearl started him over junior Cameron Tatum, who’s started 32 times this season, but has recently fallen into a slump.
In Bone’s start against Florida he scored just five points and grabbed two rebounds before fouling out. Hardaway Jr., who’s started every game for the Wolverines this year, should be able to show more poise on the big stage. Expect the frosh to exploit the senior.
ADVANTAGE: HARDAWAY JR.
Forward Tobias Harris vs. Zack Novak: The freshman Harris is the most well-rounded player Tennessee has this year. He’s a three-time Freshman of the Week in the SEC and is a Freshman All-America candidate. His nickname is “All Business” and Pearl has referred to Harris as the “most mature and hard-working freshman” he’s ever coached. He shoots nearly 50 percent from the floor, and averages 15 points and seven rebounds a game. In addition to his shooting, he finishes well around the basket and pushes the ball up the floor.
The matchup between Harris and Novak could be the most interesting of the game — not just for Harris’ all-around skills, but also because of his inherent size advantage. But Novak has spent his three years at Michigan guarding larger players, so he may surprise Harris with his ability to stick with the frosh.
Center John Fields vs. Jordan Morgan: The 6-foot-9 senior is a first-year player at Tennessee. He started his career with two years at East Carolina University before playing his junior season at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. His career is culminating as a Volunteer, where he’s experiencing less success than in seasons past. While he has 204 career blocks (he’s garnered seven-block games twice), he’s struggling to score three points a game and pull down three boards a game. Fields may have an inch on redshirt freshman Jordan Morgan, but Morgan has 20-pound advantage over the senior. Expect a physical battle in the paint between these two, but with the leaps and bounds Morgan’s made this year, he should be able to control Fields on the glass. ADVANTAGE: MORGAN