The Michigan Wolverines earned a win over the Colorado State Rams in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament. Now, they advance to the Round of 32 to face the red hot SEC Champion and No. 3-seeded Tennessee Volunteers. The Vols absolute rolled in their first game of the tourney after scoring 54 first-half points in a 88-56 blowout.
The Volunteers will be an incredibly tough out for Michigan, especially if they continue this run of dominance they are on. Each of their last eights games have been wins and three of them were against top-four seeds from the SEC in Arkansas, Auburn, and Kentucky.
Head Coach Rick Barnes has his guys playing their best basketball of the season at the right time. They have been a really spotty team at times this season, like when they only scored 48 points in their last loss of the year to Arkansas in mid-February. They are predicated on their offense which shot just 27.1 percent from the field and 16.7 percent from deep in that defeat.
Michigan will need to step up on the defensive end and lock down two guards who make up most of the Volunteers’ shot chart. Let’s dive into the players to watch for Saturday’s second-round matchup.
Junior guard Santiago Vescovi
A majority of the success of this team falls on the hands of Vescovi. The junior guard shoots about 10 shots per game and has shot at many as 17 in a game this season. He’s played over 1,000 minutes for the Vols this season, making him one of the most utilized players in the country. Vescovi is also charged with being a facilitator for the squad, he is second on the team in assists and has nearly a 2:1 turnover ratio.
Scoring comes easy to the veteran guard who averages 13.4 points per game this season. Most of that comes from his ability to find ways to get open on the court, both in and outside of the key. If he is given space, he’s probably hitting nylon.
Michigan has had its struggles against shooters like Vescovi throughout the season. And really anyone who can expand the court with their shooting. Now, they will face quite a tough task against one of the best shooters in the SEC in an elimination game on Saturday.
Freshman guard Kennedy Chandler
Next up is a former 5-star prospect and No. 9 player in the class of 2021, Kennedy Chandler. The point guard has been the leader of this Volunteers team from the jump with 24 double-digit performances throughout the year.
Chandler is the only player on the team who has more shots than Vescovi, averaging 11.4 a game. He is a bit of a different player. He’s much more athletic, he’s keener on finding creative shots off the dribble, especially in the paint, and he is quite sporadic. He’s a young guard with crazy talent but makes freshman mistakes often.
I expect Michigan to put a lot of pressure on the young guard, especially with Davonte Jones returning from the concussion protocol. He’s going to have to get in Chandler’s head because that has proven to cause some detrimental mistakes to this Tennessee squad.
He had six turnovers in an early-January blowout loss to LSU. He also has had moments where the moment gets too big for him and he plays wildly with bad shot selection and questionable decision-making. That is the version of Chandler Michigan will have to force out, because lately, that hasn’t been the Kennedy Chandler we have seen.
In his last seven games, Chandler is shooting 52.4 percent from the field and 52% percent from behind the arc on just over 10 attempts per game. He’s no longer looking like that crazy freshman point guard that he once was earlier in the season.
How important is his play to the Vols success? In their seven losses, Chandler has shot just 38 percent from the field (27-of-71) and averages just over three turnovers per game. He’s a streaky player who the Wolverines will have to exploit in order to pull out a win over the favored Vols this weekend.