INDIANAPOLIS — Mitch McGary isn’t even playing Friday, and even he’s heard plenty about the two Tennessee forwards March Madness has deemed the Bruise Brothers.
“We’re a little bit undersized, so the coaches amp it up a little bit,” the sidelined Michigan forward said while reporters swarmed his teammates in the Wolverines’ open locker room session on Thursday. “The coaches tell us they’re going to knock us around.”
No. 11 seed UT (24-12) plays No. 2 seed Michigan (27-8) on Friday (7:15 p.m. EDT) at Lucas Oil Stadium. It’s a rematch of an NCAA tournament game the Wolverines won by 30 (75-45) in Charlotte on March 18, 2011. Well, sort of.
“I wasn’t a part of that team, when they lost,” Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes said in a matter of fact tone.
“I didn’t really play during that course of time,” added his teammate, Jeronne Maymon, who was on the court for one minute in the blowout. “To go out here and make it back with a whole new team and a whole new staff, it feels pretty good.”
The two quoted above are weighing heavy on Michigan’s mind. A scene in the bowels of Lucas Oil on Thursday showed why.
After their interview session, Stokes (6-8, 260) perched himself on the back of the golf cart that was headed back toward to the UT locker room. There was no room for Maymon (6-8, 260). A word Mercer coach Bob Hoffman used earlier in the NCAA tournament came to mind: girth.
Together, Stokes and Maymon have combined to average 25.1 points and 19 rebounds (7.63 offensive) this season.
Those numbers — height, weight, points and rebounds — can be rattled off by Michigan forward Jordan Morgan (6-8, 250) by now. He and teammate Glenn Robinson III (6-6, 220) are usually the recipients of the Michigan coaches’ motivational barbs. They will be the ones most often tasked with battling Stokes and Maymon.
“They are probably pumping it up because it should be pumped up,” Morgan said of his coaches. “They (Stokes and Maymon) are really good. They dominate the glass, and they are a really hard guard. When they play well, their team plays well. They’re just trying to emphasize the seriousness of it and bring us a whole new focus.”
After McGary (6-10, 255) was shut down due to a back injury early in the season, the Wolverines have played small. Their rotation consists of one big man, Morgan or Jon Horford (6-10, 250), one point guard and a combination of three wings. It’s worked.
Sophomore guard Nik Stauskas leads a lethal perimeter attack with his 17.4-point average and 45.1 3-point percentage. Starting point guard Derrick Walton Jr. and wings Caris Levert and Robinson III also shoot better than 40 percent from the field.
UT isn’t without its perimeter options, either. Jordan McRae (18.6 ppg) is fourth in the SEC scoring race and Josh Richardson has averaged 19.3 points in tournament play. Antonio Barton can catch fire at any time.
But the Vols say they will prefer their inside-out offensive game plan to a shooting contest with the Wolverines. And Michigan is convinced controlling Stokes and Maymon is the key to reaching the national championship for the second time in two seasons.
“It’s important for us to go out knowing that, and play them as hard as we can,” Robinson III said. “Especially down low, because that’s where the game is going to be won. Who can keep who off the offensive glass and rebound the most?”