Enter The Volunteer

Submitted by Brian on March 25th, 2014 at 2:31 PM



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.



March 25th, 2014 at 2:44 PM ^

Damn. I was really hoping you'd say we can expect a laugher. I don't know if I can handle another game like Kansas last year. Who is the B1G team that Tennessee most closely resembles? Ohio? Will we be able to get off some transition 3s? How are they at defending the pick and roll?

Mercury Hayes

March 25th, 2014 at 2:53 PM ^

I've got a  bad feeling about this. I hope I am wrong. Maybe it is just because everyone keeps pimping Tennesee. I just don't have a good feeling. Again, I hope I'm wrong.


March 25th, 2014 at 3:10 PM ^

don't think you are alone in that.  I think there are two primary reasons, 1) Tennessee just isn't a known quantity, and 2) it is pretty clear that they will not overwhelmed by our length on the wing.  With regard to the first point, it is just not a "comfortable" matchup because Martin is a relatively young coach and this would be a perfect coming out party for him.  He is clearly an upgrade from Pearl and it is clear that Tennessee is better, but that is really all that is clear.  if we drew Duke you knew what to expect.  True, you would have been expecting a massive headache but at least you would have known exactly what was coming.  As to the second point, yes, we are going to have to work for shots, early, but Tennessee roams the SEC where "drawing up a play" means "setting one high screen."  Michigan runs a sophisticated offense and if Tennessee can't adapt to it they may become really confused and frustrated.  Think of how deflated Florida was after 10 minutes in the Elite Eight last year, they simply could not wrap their head around what Michigan was doing and "why the f#%k are all these guys so open."  Also, you will probably notice a substantial downgrade in defensive rotation and help side defense from Big Ten play.  There should be a lot of drive an kick opportunities if we move the ball well.  JB has an opportunity to really show his chops here.

So, how good is Tennessee.  They are good enough to beat Iowa in OT on a nuetral floor.  If we play smart and rebound the ball I think we are alright.

LS And Play

March 25th, 2014 at 3:30 PM ^

Not a fan of Pearl by any stretch, but is it really clear that Cuonzo Martin is an upgrade over a guy who made 6 tournaments in 6 years, including making the second weekend (and one Elite 8) on three occasions?


March 26th, 2014 at 12:19 PM ^

"preventing 3's" can have several meanings besides a lockdown backcourt D.  In the interests of disclosure I didn't pick apart their wins and losses, much less watch them, but consider that they lost 12 games.  Also, their style -- they avoid fouls, don't force turnovers and hammer the boards.  They have plenty of length but don't use it aggressively.  This is the sign of a team that focuses more on giving their opponent bad looks and cleaning up than breaking up plays (and terrified of their own frontcourt depth).  My guess is that they show the opponent some tempting looks, then use their experience to contest shots (then rebound them) without fouling.  I.e., they're not out to steal the ball or block your shots, but they'll get a hand in your face every time and force bad decisions.  This makes them a nightmare for certain teams, but I don't think we're looking at this unpredictable two-headed monster.  I think we're looking at a specialized, disciplined team that is very good at some things and terrible at others.

That downside is that I scanned their schedule expecting a bad-shooting, passive team to win the low-scoring games, but it turns out the lower the score, the more likely they lost.  In their 12 losses, the opposing team scored more than 70 points only three times and no one reached 80.  It is weird indeed.  That sounds like a bad match for Michigan, but an experienced squad also implies they're short on freak athletes (or they'd be in the NBA already).  A disciplined, positioning-based D is the best way to make use of slow upperclassmen, but it has its limits.

What I expect is an exchange of jabs to start, where Beeline (with a few days to prep) will throw out some new looks to punish Tennessee's defensive tendencies.  The 3-shooters (especially Stauskas) will move around as decoys to free up JorFord; GR3 will be called upon to test their inside athleticism.  If it works, Michigan will get some easy buckets and Stauskas may have 6 assists by halftime.  If Tennessee's forced out of their gameplan expect Beeline to blow the game open with Death From Above.  If Tennessee leans on their experience and refuses to crack, expect a grinding, frustrating game to the wire.  Tennesse hasn't been blown out all season so expect the latter unless Michigan's athleticism overwhelms them.

P.S. There are four teams per seed; if you're an 11-seed that DOES NOT mean you're the 11th best in the country; it means you're 41st at best.


March 25th, 2014 at 2:54 PM ^

It seems like the times when the 1-3-1 has been most consistently effective lately has been when the opponent is coming out of an offensive timeout, because it essentially makes them scrap the play that's been drawn up, recalibrate, and get into their zone breaking offense. If opposing players don't recognize the zone quickly, it can burn quite a bit of the shot clock and get them into a late clock situation before they force the zone to adjust to much ball movement. 

I know it changed the momentum of several games (Florida State is the one that comes to mind, but I know there's at least one other) but after those games, I think most teams are now drilling against it.  When it gets pulled out multiple times in a row, teams know how they want to attack it and can revert to what they've done in practice.

turd ferguson

March 25th, 2014 at 6:50 PM ^

Good point.

Even if teams are drilling against it, there's a lot of value there.  It's probably one of those things that takes an obnoxiously long time to prepare for, which means time not spent preparing for something else.


March 25th, 2014 at 2:59 PM ^

Brian or Ace?
Michigan's 1-3-1 has been subjected to the lob with Walton playing on the back end. Would a line-up of LeVert at the PG spot and Irvin at the SG on top of the zone help prevent this and make the zone more effective. Michigan would have much more length in this situation. With Tennessee being a team that won't press getting the ball advanced up the court might not be an issue. Is this a decent idea? Or am I dumb. I don't think this would be a long term defense just a different look slowing down a teams offense


March 25th, 2014 at 3:05 PM ^

That lob is the main weakness of the 1-3-1 no matter who you stick back there — covering the entire baseline with one player is damn near impossible, so you need length up front to prevent those passes from happening in the first place. I wouldn't change how Michigan utilized their personnel at all; LeVert's disruption up top is what makes it an effective curveball defense more than anything else.


March 26th, 2014 at 12:17 PM ^

There's an ideal 1-3-1 and then there's 1-3-1 with the players you have.  Michigan doesn't have the personnel to run an ideal 1-3-1, so the next best plan is to load up front to cover up the baseline defender's deficiencies.  The alternative is to have a superstar there with the quickness to cover the baseline and elevation to contest inside shots and rebound.  The job is so demanding I really don't think there's such a thing as a perfect 1-3-1 baseline defender.

At the other extreme, I don't think Michigan expects much from the baseline defender at all.  They want disruption up top and no easy passing lanes; if a pass gets through the last guy's basically there to reduce the shot difficulty from automatic to easy.


March 25th, 2014 at 3:12 PM ^

I wonder if Michigan will try to go big and put Caris up top (as usual), Stauskas and GRIII on the wings, Morgan in the middle and Irvin on the baseline.

We all know Irvin's defensive limitations (optimistic!) but that's an extra 6-7 inches on the baseline over Walton or Spike.


March 25th, 2014 at 3:20 PM ^

think they will zone at all with the exception of a quick 1-3-1 to mix it up after a timeout of something.  They just don't play it that well, and they don't rebound out of it at all.  I think if you see it things have gone really poorly.


March 25th, 2014 at 3:28 PM ^

I don't know if Irvin's quick enough to get out to contest the corner 3, which is one of the main duties of the bottom guy in the zone when the point and wing are trapping the ball on one of the wings. Normally teams are willing to sacrifice size for quickness down there.

As Ace says, that guy has a really tough job and is frequently caught in no win situations when penetration splits the point and the wing.


March 25th, 2014 at 4:34 PM ^

It is a rough position to cover...if Tennessee is shooting 20-30% from three I still think it could be an option.

If the 1-3-1 is deployed, the first thing they'll try is throw over the zone as opposed to launching three's. That's my semi-educated guess, of course


March 25th, 2014 at 6:20 PM ^

Agree on both Lavert and Walton.  You need someone quick and fast at the back of the 1-3-1 cause they have to cover so much ground.  You also like to have someone fairly tall at the point so make it tougher on the offense to reverse the ball.

With any defense, especially a zone, communication is key between the defensive players.  The backside wing needs to make sure the lob opportunity isn't there.  It isn't Walton's responsibility to cover/prevent the lob.


March 25th, 2014 at 3:10 PM ^

While the zone might be a valid option, I think the best way to defend UT is to apply constant pressure to their guards starting at half court.  Barton is much more of a pure shooter than a creator, and they really don't have a true PG on the roster.  I think Walton can definitely lock up Barton and make life very difficult for the UT offense. 


On offense, UM really needs to attack the paint and try to pick up fouls on Stokes and Maymom.  UT has no back up post options and if either one of their big men gets in foul trouble, it could be a long night for the Volunteers.  I look for Walton and the collection of 6'6" wings to attack early and often. 



March 25th, 2014 at 3:18 PM ^

I agree...get inside and force some fouls.  That and get out into transition, which means we gotta out-hustle Tenn for rebounds.  But if they're not able to get back, they'll be fouling UM on the break.  We'll see though.  I'm more optimistic than some are out here...


March 25th, 2014 at 3:47 PM ^

IMO, we should make their big guys work by having to guard and react to Morgan and Horford inside, and not just on pick'n'rolls, though it seems clear that a LOT of that would probably be useful as well.


Wolverine In Iowa

March 25th, 2014 at 3:20 PM ^

I was thinking the same thing about McGary and this game as well.  I envision him distributing the ball against the Vols a la 'Cuse game last year.

Put Spike/Walton on the baseline for a bit, see what happens.  Then, put LeVert down there with Irvin up top.  Win.

Gustavo Fring

March 25th, 2014 at 3:16 PM ^

Gets extremely hot from three, the game is going to come down to whether GRIII can hold up at the 4.  He might have to go 40 minutes.  If he can hold his own on the glass, use his length to make up for his lack of girth, and run the floor to tire the opposing bigs out, Michigan will be in very good shape.  

My guess is Michigan will have to employ a lot of zone.  Tennessee's guards are quick and athletic but can't shoot.  We'll have to go zone and hope we can at least put up a respectable effort on the boards while being pretty damn efficient offensively.  Again, GRIII is the key to this.  I think we can expect a solid performance from Morgan.  


March 25th, 2014 at 3:20 PM ^

Good post and I completely agree that Robinson is the key to this game, as often is the case.  I think whoever wins the Maymom vs. Robinson matchup will go a long way in determining who wins.  I've read a lot of previews that mention the mismatch UM has defensively at the 4 spot, but they fail to mention how that works both ways.  In my opinion, Maymom trying to guard Robinson on defense is a bigger mismatch than Robinson trying to guard Maymom, but I'm also a UM fan.


March 25th, 2014 at 3:30 PM ^

I am no expert in KenPom's rankings, but do they include any sort of performance variance variable?

Consider two teams that have very similar per possession statistics, but lets say team 1 has very high variance from game to game (can lose to anyone, can blow anyone out) while team 2 tends to play very consistently (adjusting for quality of opponent, of course).  Would it be fair to say that team 2 is a better team?  I'd be very interested to see if there is any predictive value for including a component like that. 


March 25th, 2014 at 3:42 PM ^

The 3s are my biggest fear, specifically that Tennessee doesn't let opponents shoot many of them.  The 14 3s in our game against Texas go a long way in a comfortable win, take those away and we're in a dog fight or worse.


March 25th, 2014 at 3:48 PM ^

Maybe the schools Tenn played just aren't that good at 3pt shooting, so whenever there's a halfway decent close-out, they'd rather pass the ball then take the shot.  With Michigan, they're gonna take the shot even if it's slightly contested.  Hopefully we can hit 35% of those, and at least 40% of the more wide open looks we get in transition or otherwise.  If we do, we win.  


March 25th, 2014 at 3:49 PM ^

I am particularly terrified of Tennessee's combo of size and 3 pt defense. It just sounds like our worst nightmare.

Then again, they went 11-7 in the SEC so it's not like they're unstoppable by any means.


March 25th, 2014 at 4:36 PM ^

in the opener.  Did anyone else watch that game?  Iowa was terrible - no one took control, no one hit their shots.  Iowa of the getting-beat-by-Northwestern ilk.  They seemed to have plenty of open opportunities, especially early, and didn't hit anything.  Tennessee was throwing up a pile of bricks early as well.

This is classic "the last thing that I saw happen is coloring my entire view" thinking.  Yes, they played well against UMASS.  And they beat Mercer, who lots of people should expect to beat.  But I'm so much less concerned about this opponent than I would be against almost any other opponent.  Seriously, who would you rather play (other than Dayton or Stanford)?

gustave ferbert

March 25th, 2014 at 9:06 PM ^

outside of the virginia beat (who according to ESPN wasn't ranked at the time and that was a home game), Tennessee lost to every team they played ranked in the top 25.  This may be too simplistic, but I can't get past the quality of their competition being a direct correlation to their performance.


March 26th, 2014 at 12:24 PM ^

I don't know if I'd necessarily say they were a non-factor.  They didn't inflict to much harm but if you look at their season stats none of their big men put up huge numbers.  The area that the Texas big men hurt UM was on the offensive glass.  Texas had more offensive rebounds then UM had defensive rebounds.  Luckily for UM, a lot of those offensive rebounds came in the second half after UM had built a sizable lead.


March 25th, 2014 at 3:51 PM ^

from three than they were against Mercer; that JoMo remains out of foul trouble; and that they don't get up early. With their enthusiasm and the crowd behind them, we will really struggle in the latter case. Depending on the breaks, either team is capable of winning this one by 15. Here's hoping that we're both hot and get them frustrated with the way we spread the floor from early on. 


March 25th, 2014 at 4:02 PM ^

The best three point shooting team the Vols played is, I believe, Arkansas. The Hogs hit 7 of 17 against Tennessee, which is above their season average.


March 25th, 2014 at 4:28 PM ^

if they don't block shots, don't foul, and are extended out defending the 3, I would hope that opens up opportunities for Stauskas, LeVert, and GRIII to drive to the rim


March 25th, 2014 at 4:53 PM ^

The UT/Iowa play-in game was a weird affair.  Iowa was called for foul after foul and UT hardly any despite a physical attacking D.  I think the final numbers of foul calls ran 2-1 in favor of Iowa. Also, Marble missed a lot of open looks. Sure, chalk some of Marble's issues to good D,  but the foul situation really turned that game and as it was, UT needed OT to beat a reeling B1G team that had just lost to Northwestern.  I think the extra play-in game helped get UT's tourney mojo going and the five day lay off will benefit us more than them.  I think we win by 5.