The conference affiliations separating Michigan and Tennessee heading into their NCAA tournament Sweet 16 showdown in Indianapolis might be best set to flip-flop on Friday, at least for a game.
The stocky Volunteers, led by former Purdue standout Cuonzo Martin, fit the mold of a tough-nosed Big Ten team with muscular bigs, a number of athletic defenders and a focus on defense first.
Across the board, the second seed Wolverines' stacked roster of lethal sharpshooters who can attack the rim off the dribble have taken the Big Ten by storm and allowed them to win the regular season title outright by three games.
None of Michigan's many elusive perimeter playmakers are more important than Nik Stauskas. The 6-foot-6 Michigan sophomore guard garnered Big Ten player of the year honors this season after averaging 17.4 points per game and 3.3 assists, both team-highs.
Stauskas is coming into Friday on fire. He accounted for 48 percent of Michigan's points — 17 points and eight assists — against 7-seed Texas in the Round of 32.
"I think whenever he decides to leave, there's no doubt in my mind he'll play at the NBA level," UT head coach Cuonzo Martin said Tuesday. "Watching him last year, he was more of a catch-and-shoot. But now, he puts the ball on the floor to make plays.
"I guess that's why he's Big Ten player of the year in a league that is so tough and so physical."
Stauskas rose to prominence during Michigan's 2012-13 NCAA run with his long ball, but has refined his game this season and become more of an offensive leader with preseason All-American Mitch McGary having been ruled out since December.
It's no surprise, and probably a relief to Vol fans, that Josh Richardson — the Vols' lock down defender — has been studying up on him.
"Nik Stauskas is a great player," Richardson said. "I think their offense pretty much flows through him. He leads them in points and assists, so it will be crucial to try to get him out of his rhythm."
But not lost in his plethora of compliments was the confidence that has gotten the Vols this far and will be needed if they advance to the second Elite Eight in school history.
"I mean, it's just another player," Richardson said of Stauskas. "I've been guarding guys like that for a while now, so it's nothing new."
The Vols' efforts in running Michigan away from the 3-point line can't start and end with Stauskas. Michigan as a unit has shot the long ball better than 40 percent this season, with three starters — Stauskas, Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton Jr. — shooting above a 40-percent clip this year from deep.
UT senior forward Jeronne Maymon, who himself will have to venture out to the perimeter, conceded it would be a difficult adjustment to shut down the 3-point line. But the Vols are up to the challenge.
"I think that will be very hard for us," Maymon said, "because that's not the way we play. They shoot a lot of threes, and make a lot of threes, so I think it's our job as a team to run them off that line."
Despite all of UT's focus on the perimeter and its relentless, defensive-minded approach that has held its last eight foes to 54 points per game, Vols junior forward Jarnell Stokes was still hoping for some luck to go the Vols' way.
Such is the case when facing one of the nation's top teams.
"Sometimes you have to get a little bit lucky in hoping they don't hit a lot of shots," Stokes said, "and hoping that they miss some or maybe get off to a slow start."