A spot in the Elite Eight could come down to Michigan’s top scorer Nik Stauskas and Tennessee’s best defender Josh Richardson.
The two squads will meet in the Midwest Region semi-final in Indianapolis on Friday night.
At first considered lucky to be in the tournament and then proving all doubters wrong with three straight solid wins, the Vols could make the Elite Eight for the second time in four years but that largely hinges on how junior guard Richardson and his teammates contain the Big Ten Player of the Year and deadly shooter Stauskas.
The 6-foot-2 sophomore guard finished third in the Big Ten in scoring with 17.4 points and ranked 12th with 3.3 assists per game, with the Wolverines largely flowing through his hands. Stauskas was also second in the conference from beyond the arc, nailing 45.1 percent of his three-pointers.
"I've seen everything this year, and I know there are a lot of great defenders out there, and I know Richardson is a great defender," Stauskas said to MLive.com. "But I'm not too worried. I've seen just about everything when it comes to how people defend me.
"And that's good. Because nothing is really a surprise. At some point, you've been through those situations and you know how to react. I'm confident."
Richardson will have to come in to break Stauskas’s confidence and effectiveness from deep. At 6-foot-6 Richardson’s length should be able to alter several of Stauskas’s shots, but he isn’t the only Vol that can help.
Coming off the bench is Darius Thompson, who led Tennessee with 35 steals this season, and leading Vols scorer Jordan McRae was tied for the team lead with 34 blocks and second with 24 steals. Forcing Stauskas into poor shots and turnovers will give McRae and big man Jarnell Stokes the extra opportunities they’ll need.
It would be change of strategy for the Vols to focus mostly on defense, considering they’re averaging 82.3 points per game in the tournament, but Stauskus is just the beginning of a Wolverines offense loaded with talented scorers.
There’s also Caris LeVert, another sophomore guard who’s hit 41 percent of his threes this season for 13.1 points per game, and also pulls down 4.5 rebounds per game. The Vols will also have to watch out for sophomore Glenn Robinson whose averaging 13.1 points and 4.4 rebounds, and freshman guards Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin have equally hit 40.8 percent of their threes this season.
Time: 7:15 p.m. EST
TV Channel: CBS
Online Stream Info: A live online stream is available at NCAA March Madness Live here.