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MILWAUKEE — The University of Michigan men’s basketball team now prepares to face a team that’s become a March upstart.
The Wolverines will face Tennessee on Friday in the NCAA tournament’s Sweet Sixteen at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis — and Tennessee is on a tear. After a stretch in February in which it went 2-4, the Volunteers have won eight of their last nine games, including an overtime win over Iowa in a play-in game last week in Dayton.
Sunday night in Raleigh, the No. 11 Volunteers (24-12) beat No. 14 Mercer — the Atlantic Sun Conference’s representative, which beat college basketball blue-blood Duke in a first-round game — to reach the program’s first Sweet Sixteen since 2010.
The Wolverines (27-8) defeated No. 15 Wofford and No. 7 Texas this weekend at the Bradley Center. Less than a year removed from playing in the national championship game, they’re the No. 2 seed in the Midwest region but can’t escape a certain perception.
“At this point, I think people like to kind of say that we can't accomplish things,” said forward Jordan Morgan, who had 15 points and 10 assists in Saturdays win over No. 7 Texas. “We embrace that.”
Morgan had a breakthrough game at forward, and Michigan’s long-range shooting was on point as the Wolverines finished with four players in double figures: Morgan, Glenn Robinson III (14 points), and guards Nik Stauskas (17) and Caris LeVert (14).
“If we play the way we practice, we have lot of pass serves and have a lot of shooters,” said Michigan coach John Beilein, who earned his 700th win on Saturday. “And so if you look, if you get into the lane, we had a couple just beautiful plays where we got in the lane, landed on two, and we found open people or found a different shot for ourselves, something we work on endlessly.
"So there's some big points [Saturday] where what they practiced transferred over to a game.”
Morgan’s presence in the paint was key for the Wolverines. Against Texas, the Wolverines neutralized the Longhorns’ inside game and got a stellar first-half shooting effort en route to taking an 18-point lead.
A 15-for-28 shooting effort in the first half buoyed the Wolverines in the second, as Texas cut the lead to eight with six minutes left — with the help of its inside players, who found their footing against Morgan in the second half.
Tennessee boasts an inside presence similar to that of Texas in 6-foot-8, 260-pound junior Jarnell Stokes and 6-foot-8, 260-pound redshirt senior Jeronne Maymon.
Stokes followed up a 26-point, 14-rebound effort in Tennessee’s 86-67 upset Friday of No. 6 Massachusetts with 17 points and 18 rebounds Sunday against Mercer. By comparison, Mercer had 19 team rebounds.
Stokes was one of four Volunteers to score in double figures.
Contact Rachel Lenzi at:email@example.com,419-724-6510 or onTwitter @RLenziBlade.