This may not be the 2013 championship rematch that everyone was hoping for, but it can be just as good of a Game. Michigan is playing great and continues to shoot well, while Kentucky just keeps finding ways to win. Surprisingly, the 8-seed Wildcats opened as -2 point favorites over the 2-seed Wolverines.
Back in September, there wasn’t too much debate on who the No. 1 team in the country was. Kentucky had just reeled in five more top recruits to play alongside returning sophomores Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress and was the majority of America’s pick to cut down the nets in April.
Fast forward to early March when the Wildcats lost back-to-back Games to South Carolina and Arkansas leaving fans to wonder if they will even make the Tournament, let alone be crowned champs. Kentucky has turned the switch on since then, rattling off two impressive wins in the SEC Tournament en route to a nail-biting loss to Florida in the championship Game.
Things for Michigan were never as clear cut, with injury issues to Mitch McGary brewing up early in the season and a November loss to Charlotte had many doubting them. That’s until they won the Big Ten regular season by three Games. Even with many people still doubting the Wolverines, they continue to win and could be headed to a second straight Final 4.
Kentucky has played to a formula, which allows them to do what they do best, dominate on the glass. The Wildcats feature a frontcOurt which ranks 2nd overall in the country in offensive rebounding led by freshman star Julius Randle, who is averaging 4.3 offensive rebounds alone in the first three Games of the Tournament.
If Kentucky is going to complete their run to the Final 4, they’ll need to take advantage of Michigan’s smaller lineup and control the boards. Another way Kentucky will look to exploit the smaller Michigan team will be with their surging freshman guards, the Harrison twins. The Wildcat offense is performing at a higher level when the two 6-6 guards are on the cOurt together as they are eating up smaller backcOurts along with James Young.
The injury to Kentucky center Cauley-Stein would seem to benefit Michigan, but that might not be the case. The 7-footer is facing what could be a broken ankle and is doubtful for Sunday’s tilt, but why shouldn’t Kentucky worry? The Wildcats, in the first three Games of the NCAA Tournament, are playing much better (+25 point differential) with Cauley-Stein off the cOurt rather than when he is on the cOurt (-11 PT differential). Dakari Johnson’s infusion into the lineup will be plenty enough to make up for what Cauley-Stein normally brought to the table during the regular season. Bottom line, Kentucky’s ability to utilize their size will go a long way in deciding this matchup even though Jordan Morgan has been exceptional for the Wolverines.
Michigan relies a lot on its shooting, and if the shots aren’t falling, the Wolverines are beatable against anyone. However, that hasn’t been the case so far as Michigan is shooting a robust .492% from three in their first three Tourney Games, which is higher than any remaining team in the Tournament.
If Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert and Zak Irvin have trouble against the bigger guards of Kentucky, that might be it. But just because the Wildcats are bigger, doesn’t mean the Wolverines won’t be able to shoot. This team plays extremely well together and Jordan Morgan is becoming quite useful as a big man, nearly averaging a double-double for the Tourney. The Wolverines can shoot, but are efficient at getting to the hoop as well, whether it’s Derrick Walton Jr. at point or Glenn Robinson III, who will likely be matched with Julius Randle.
Kentucky is one of the few teams that can still win even if their shots aren’t falling as we saw in the Louisville win, but the same can’t be said about Michigan. Can they shoot near 50 percent from beyond the arc for the entire Tourney? That’s what bettors will be backing if they believe in Michigan.