When Michigan and Tennessee last met, the Wolverines walked away with a 30-point blowout win and the Volunteers missed the NCAA Tournament the two subsequent years.
But that was 2011, and the No. 11-seed Vols are a much more potent and confident team as they battle No. 2 Michigan in the Sweet 16 on Friday night in Indianapolis.
This Midwest Region matchup seemed highly unlikely, especially for Tennessee, which was one of the last teams selected for the tournament and needed three straight wins, including the play-in game, to make the Sweet 16 as opposed to two for the favored Wolverines.
Back on Feb. 22, Tennessee owned a 16-11 record after an overtime loss to Texas A&M, and a tournament berth seemed like a pipe dream. Since then, the Vols have gone 8-1, with their only loss coming to No. 1 Florida in the SEC tournament.
Leading Tennessee scorer and senior guard Jordan McRae has averaged 16.2 points in that stretch, and junior forward Jarnell Stokes has been on fire with 17.4 points and 11.5 rebounds in the tournament.
Stokes especially powered Tennessee’s upset of No. 6 UMass in the second round with 26 points and 14 rebounds, nailing 12-of-13 free throw attempts, and was the top performer with 17 points, 18 rebounds and five assists in the 20-point slaying of fellow upstart Mercer in the third round.
Senior Antonio Barton was also a huge sparkplug against Mercer, knocking down four of nine three-pointers for 18 points.
Senior forward Jerome Maymon also recorded his fifth double-double of the year in the UMass win.
The Vols are now in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2010, but that run could be stunted by a Michigan squad that’s quickly reloaded after last year’s runner-up finish to Louisville.
Sophomore Wolverines guard Nik Stauskas has shot better than 46 percent from three-point range in two tournament games, and matched his season-high with eight assists in the second round 79-65 win over Texas.
Senior forward Jordan Morgan, who’s taken on a much bigger role with sophomore big man Mitch McGary sidelined with a back injury since December, has posted two consecutive double-doubles in the tournament after just one during the regular season.
Time: Friday, 7:15 p.m. EST
TV Channel: CBS
Betting Odds: Michigan -3
Over/Under: 134 points
Prediction: Michigan 75, Tennessee 69