Round Of 8 Matchup: #8 Kentucky Vs. #2 Michigan
- CoachingA legend in his own right, Wildcats coach John Calipari boasts an impressive and enviable resume in his time at Kentucky. Since 2009, Calipari has taken his team to the Final Four twice. He’s also been named National Coach of the Year three times in his career. Calipari is a players-first coach and his teams, especially when young, rally around him like no one else. His strategy to knock off Louisville in the Sweet 16 was the stuff of legends.Wolverines coach John Beilein is the sixth-active coach with 700 career wins after Michigan’s win over Texas in the last round. Since taking over the program in 2007, Beilein has completely turned the team around and even been named by Bleacher Report as “the most creative coach in college basketball.” After going 31-8 in 2013, the Wolverines fell to Louisville in the NCAA National Championship, but by that point, Beilein and his Wolverines had proved they could ball with the big boys. Beilein has proven throughout this tournament that his team is efficient and determined.
- OffenseThe Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron, combined for 29 points and Julius Randle, a phenom in the regular season, scored a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds for the Wildcats against Louisville. Dakari Johnson also put up a monster game with 25 points, proving that all of Kentucky’s starters are a deep threat to the Wolverines.Texas and Tennessee both had a distinct inside advantage over Michigan in their last round matchup, so the Wolverines answered with some of their best three-point shooting performances of the season, netting an impressive 11 three-pointers against the Vols. The Wolverines had three starters with scores in the double digits by just a few minutes into the second half against Tennessee – that type of offensive prowess will be tough to match. The key to any team looking to stop Michigan will be finding an answer for the Wolverines’ three-point-shooting attack.
- DefenseKentucky is one of the best rebounding teams in the country with 41.3 boards per game (5th in the nation). They also rank 9th with 6.2 blocks per game and their big men are capable of some stellar moves. The Wildcats have also been good at minimizing turnovers, which should give them a certain edge over rival Louisville, who thrive on points from turnovers. Offensive rebounds gave Kentucky a huge advantage over the Cardinals and will play a positive factor again against the Wolverines.Michigan’s defense, even through the Sweet 16, has yet to be truly tested, but they’ll get a handful with Kentucky and their top rebounding team. The Wolverines held opponents to just 64.9 points in the regular season, but they were abysmal in rebounds, blocks, and steals per game, ranking 237th, 298th, and 276th, respectively on the national scales. Michigan’s defense stumbled late against Tennessee, but was able to barely hold on for the win, despite nearly sabotaging themselves with some sloppy defensive plays.
- Bench DepthKentucky has a lot of freshman to boast on their starting squad, and they came through in the win against Louisville, with all of the Wildcats five freshman starters combining for 68 of the Wildcats’ 74 points. But when it comes to the bench, Kentucky’s pretty thin, with backup forward Alex Poythress the only bench player to add any points with six against the Cardinals.Michigan’s starting lineup is stacked with talent, but the difference in this match up will be the Wolverines’ ability to throw in players from the likes of guards Spike Albrecht and Zak Irvin, who can change the feel of a game off the bench. Irvin was electric against the Volunteers in the first half alone, adding six points off the bench with two three-pointers and ending the game perfect with three for three for nine points.
Michigan had their first decent test with their Sweet 16 battle against Tennessee and the Volunteers made them earn the win in the final moments. Still, Michigan’s potent 3-point offense could be tough for Kentucky to overcome if Stauskas and senior Jordan Morgan have as good a game as many predict they will and have been having. Kentucky, on the other hand, faced a much-tougher test by knocking off defending champ, Louisville, which could give them the emotional edge they need for a trip to the Final Four. -Michael Ferro is freelance writer and a graduate of Michigan State University where he majored in Creative Writing and received the Jim Cash Creative Writing Award. Born and bred in Detroit, he currently resides in near Ann Arbor, MI. Additional writing can be found at Examiner.com.