BECAUSE IT'S ILLEGAL TO ENTER AN EMPLOYEE
Somewhere a Tennessee blog is posting a picture of Cato June chasing Jason Witten
So about that Kenpom rank. The good news for Michigan is that they've drawn an 11-seed in the Sweet 16. The bad news for Michigan is that they've drawn the incredibly rare team to have a Kenpom ranking well above their seed line—after their three-game run they are all the way up to sixth(!) in that rating system.
We talk a lot about Kenpom around these parts, but one of the things that's always seemed a little off about his rankings is how lopsided games have a disproportionate impact. Tennessee has had a lot of those. They've also lost 7 SEC games. They are 23-12. Is Tennessee really the sixth-best team in the country, or 11th as they were at the beginning of the tournament? Probably not. Ask Kenpom himself:
I'm not foolish enough to believe the Vols are the 11th-best team in the land (the Sagarin and Massey predictive systems both have Tennessee ranked in the mid-20s). But it's clear Tennessee, coached by Cuonzo Martin, is better than the typical No. 11 seed. It's also obvious the Vols are very difficult to evaluate based on the limited information available to us.
Tennessee is a weird team. It takes a weird team to blow out Virginia and outscore the SEC by 0.14 points a possession—Michigan, 15-3 Big Ten champ, only managed 0.09—and end up one of the last teams in the field because it went 11-7 in a conference that was fifth-best nationally and only had one team seeded above an 8.
When computers run up against weird teams, weird things get spit out. Kenpom's got an algorithm and he only changes it when he can find something that makes it more accurate over the ten seasons of data he's got, as he did when he tried out reducing the influence of blowouts in mismatches. (IE, he mitigated The Wisconsin Problem.) But there's not much you can do with a team that has a set of results as bizarre as the Vols.
Even if the algorithm is irrationally exuberant about the Vols it has to be given some credit for calling UT's outright domination of a higher-seeded UMass in the first round, and they would have given Duke all they would handle. Vegas, too, believes this is not a typical 11-versus-2 matchup, as they opened the line up at –1.5. Kenpom has the Vols by one. It's not a huge analytical difference. It's about which side of the coinflip you shade to. Tennessee may be an 11, but they're much better than their seed. Better than Michigan? Eh… we'll see.
And about that Texas comparison. It remains close. Similarities:
- Frontcourt size. Both Texas and Tennessee deploy two 6'8"+ guys at all times. The center is a widebody type, with a more athletic 4 man. Texas has way more post depth; Tennessee's starters are even better rebounders. PF Jarnell Stokes in particular is a McGary-level beast on the boards, 13th in OREB and 65th in DREB nationally.
- Board murderin'. Team OREB rates are near identical, with both teams acquiring almost 40% of their misses.
- Shooting issues. Tennessee is even worse from three than Texas is, but they shoot more. Go-to guy Jordan McRae is decent, as is Josh Richardson. Everyone else is bad. Tennessee's backups have combined to go 33/135 on the year; PG Antonio Barton is at 33%. Collectively the Vols are 282nd from deep.
- Passive defense. Texas and Tennessee both force few turnovers. Tennessee has a defensive profile a lot like a better Michigan: few FTAs, good rebounding, bad at forcing turnovers, Tennessee is a lot better at FG D.
- Backcourt size: Texas had no one who could reasonably contest jumpers from LeVert and Stauskas, with no one taller than 6'2" other than their posts. Tennessee goes 6'6", 6'6", 6'2" down the roster. They'll be a match for Michigan's size.
- Experience. Tennessee starts three seniors and two juniors. Texas starts three sophomores, a junior, and a freshman.
- Shot blocking. Tennessee doesn't do much of it, preferring to lock down the defensive boards and avoid fouls.
- Transition. Tennessee is a slow team, one that has fewer transition opportunities than Michigan and finishes them at a mediocre 55%. Texas tries to speed things up to help their bad half court offense.
- Depth. Texas has two solid bench players in Lammert and Martez Walker. Tennessee has a bunch of no-usage guys who don't do much more than eat minutes without bringing the world to a screeching halt.
- Preventing threes. Perhaps the most worrying issue for Michigan in comparison to Texas is that Tennessee doesn't give up many threes. That's not a schedule thing, either, as they were second in the league in that department. Texas gives up buckets of threes. This is not a fluke. Tennessee gave up buckets of threes in Bruce Pearl's tenure (best ranking in last three years of Pearl: 289th). When Cuonzo Martin arrived that number immediately plummeted and stayed there (worst ranking: 33rd).
So, yes, a version of Texas that is bigger and a lot better at playing fundamentally solid, unspectacular defense that prevents Michigan from deploying their #1 weapon as easily as the Longhorns did. Do not expect a laugher.
Maybe don't let Jordan McRae run at the rim. Unless the ref is going to give him a ridiculous tech.
McRae and Stokes can get up. Seems likely that LeVert will get McRae as Stauskas matches up with Josh Richardson. If I was Michigan I would be tempted to sag off Barton, the PG, to give other guys some help. Keeping Tennessee away from the rim is a top priority. Easier said than done with this defense.
Zone? Michigan tried a 1-3-1 against Texas to little effect and then dumped it. Tennessee also fits the profile of a team that might be vulnerable to zoning, what with their dodgy three point shooting. Michigan's problem in the 1-3-1 is that it hasn't forced threes in the last few games, it's forced Spike Albrecht to guard 285 pound guys. It kind of feels like the 1-3-1 extends itself too far, or allows too many passes that don't loop over the defense. Its rebounding issues are exacerbated when it's generating short rebounds, too.
A 2-3 might be effective, but Michigan hasn't spent much time on it or played it at all. Seems like this will be a man to man affair unless Michigan gets itself in desperation mode.