CHARLOTTE, N.C. — If you knew nothing about basketball, you might have watched the first 10 minutes of Michigan's game with Tennessee on Friday and wondered how the Wolverines could stay in the game. If you knew nothing about basketball, you might have been amazed by the Volunteers' athleticism and concerned about U-M's apparent lack of it.
And if you knew nothing about basketball, Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl might put you in his starting lineup.
The smarter team won. Actually, the smarter team kicked butt. Michigan was more focused, more disciplined and much brighter than Tennessee, and the result was a 75-45 victory for Michigan, the biggest blowout of this NCAA tournament to that point.
The Volunteers probably thought the Wolverines played the game of their lives. But they really didn't. They played half the game of their lives.
In the first half, U-M star Tim Hardaway Jr. played only 11 minutes because of foul trouble, and the team's only true interior scorer, Jordan Morgan, played only 4 minutes because of foul trouble. Power forward Evan Smotrycz went in for Morgan and set an NCAA tournament record for Least Amount Of Time Needed To Infuriate The Head Coach. John Beilein yanked him after 27 seconds.
"We were supposed to be running a play, and I strayed from the play," Smotrycz said, "so Coach had to let me know about it."
With Hardaway out, Matt Vogrich made all five of his shots, scored 11 points, grabbed three rebounds and had a key steal, which was a heck of a way to celebrate his 15th birthday.
Oh, I kid. That's the thing about Vogrich — he looks so young that people just assume he can't play. But he can. According to advanced statistician Ken Pomeroy of KenPom.com, Vogrich has a higher offensive rebound rate than Hardaway or Zack Novak. He is shooting 39 percent from three-point range. He isn't very quick, but he can handle the ball and has good length for his position.
With Vogrich keeping Michigan in the game, Beilein went to the 1-3-1 zone, which helped for two reasons. One, the zone helped negate Tennessee's athletic advantage. And two, it made the Volunteers think.
Loss to Michigan like a bad dream
"They had trouble with the 1-3-1," Smotrycz said, which is sort of like saying an infant had trouble with calculus. The Volunteers looked like they were facing a 2-3-6. They had no idea what to do.
U-M entered halftime with a 33-29 lead and a ton of confidence.
"We were missing a lot of open ones," Smotrycz said. "I thought it was just a matter of time before we started to pull away."
Pull away? Eighth-seeded Michigan outscored ninth-seeded Tennessee, 42-16, in the second half. U-M won every statistical category — it was the basketball equivalent of Reagan vs. Mondale. Michigan had 24 more points in the paint, eight more on the break and 18 more from three-point range. That basically covers the whole court, except the foul line. Michigan won by 30 without making a free throw.
Tennessee freshman Tobias Harris said his team "quit" and played with "no heart," but that's not how the game began. It's just how it ended. And Michigan had a lot to do with it.
Now U-M will play top-seeded Duke for a spot in the Sweet 16. I give Michigan an outside chance at the upset, unless Vogrich turns pro before Sunday. The Wolverines played half the game of their lives Friday. If they play the whole game of their lives Sunday, the whole country will take notice.
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