KNOXVILLE — Swingman Renaldo Woolridge canned a 3-pointer from the wing during Tennessee’s session with its scout team at Monday’s practice.
“That’s what they do!” barked one of the Volunteers’ assistant coaches.
When the ninth-seeded Volunteers play eighth-seeded Michigan in the first round of the NCAA tournament Friday afternoon in Charlotte, N.C., they’ll face a team that takes and makes plenty of 3-pointers.
“They’re clearly better from 3 than they are from 2,” UT coach Bruce Pearl said Monday. “You’ve got to make sure that the 3-ball is something they don’t get a lot of easy looks at. I thought the scout team did really well. Unfortunately they did too well.
“Michigan’s stuff is hard to guard and different from what we normally see. We’ve not seen anything like this all year long.”
The Wolverines (20-13), who start four players 6-foot-5 or shorter, made 38 percent of their 3-point attempts in Big Ten play. Michigan takes 23 3s per game — 43 percent of its shots — and makes eight per game, which is tied for 21st nationally. Tim Hardaway Jr., Zack Novak, Stu Douglass and Evan Smotrycz all make at least one 3-pointer per game for the Wolverines.
“[It] definitely puts some pressure on us as far as being able to close out in a good stance and contest each and every shot that they do shoot,” UT guard Scotty Hopson said. “I think the main key is just trying to stay in the passing lanes and try to make the catches difficult, because obviously if they get shots, a lot of times they’re making them.”
Pearl said the Wolverines like to drive to create passes to free their shooters and also will run shooters around screens for open looks. The driver of coach John Beilein’s offense is point guard Darius Morris, who’s fifth in the country in assists (6.7 per game). The 6-foot-4 Novak, who’s also Michigan’s leading rebounder, is another tricky matchup at the power forward position.
“We’ll have a size advantage at [power forward] and [center],” Pearl said. “Now whether or not we can take advantage of it, that’s another matter. They’ll have a size advantage at point guard. Morris is a terrific player and he really makes their team go. He’s a big point guard. He’s like a 6-4 Melvin [Goins, UT’s 5-11 point guard].
“Novak is kind of like Steven Pearl or [former Vol] Dane Bradshaw with a jump shot. There’s no way to duplicate that. We haven’t seen that.”
Michigan also will make UT work defensively, as the Wolverines employ a methodical offense that averages 62 possessions per game — ninth in the Big Ten and six fewer than the Vols.
“We have to be ready to guard for 35 seconds every time down the floor,” UT guard Josh Bone said. “We know they’re not going to rush it. They’re going to look for great shots and not just good shots. I hope they miss some shots. Their offense is good, but we’re long on the defensive, we’re tough and I believe we can stop them.”
Said Pearl: “Our length is a factor depending the 3-ball. It’ll need to be because our length should help us contest. There’s a big difference between getting an open 3 and a contested 3, and if we can do a good job getting out and contesting, get a hand in the face, the shooting percentages should drop.”
In the bonus
Freshman forward Tobias Harris did not practice Monday with a thigh bruise suffered in last Friday’s loss to Florida in the Southeastern Conference tournament quarterfinals. Pearl said Harris should return today and will play Friday “without question.”
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrownTFP.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...