Midwest Regional Final Handicapping Selections: #8 Kentucky Wildcats vs #2 Michigan Wolverines
2014 NCAA Tournament
Midwest Regional Final
Lucas Oil Stadium – Indianapolis, Indiana
#8 Kentucky Wildcats vs #2 Michigan Wolverines
Sunday, March 30, 2014, 5:05 pm Eastern, TV: CBS
Opening Line: Kentucky -2
Current Line: Kentucky -2 1/2
Opening Total: 138
Current Total: 141
Opening Money Line: Kentucky -135 / Michigan +115
Current Money Line: Kentucky -135 / Michigan +115
The Kentucky Wildcats were the pre-season #1 team in college basketball. However, the Wildcats did not live up to those lofty expectations with a rather pedestrian 22-9 record in the regular season. Starting with the the SEC Tournament though, Kentucky has been playing their best basketball of the season, having won 5 of 6 games to improve to 27-10. Still, the Wildcats were seeded #8 in the Midwest region. Kentucky has advanced all the way to the regional final and will face the #2 seed 28-8 Michigan Wolverines Sunday in Indianapolis. The winner will advance to the Final Four in Arlington, Texas to face the West Champion #2 Wisconsin.
Kentucky went 12-6 in the SEC and tied for second with Georgia behind 18-0 Florida. Kentucky lost to Florida 61-60 in the SEC Championship game. Kentucky beat #9 seed Kansas State 56-49 in the second round and then upset #1 seed Wichita State 78-76 in the third round in St. Louis. The Shockers were 35-0 heading into that game.
The Wildcats took down in-state rival and defending national champion #4 seed Louisville 74-69 in the semifinals Friday night. The Cardinals took and early 18-5 lead against Kentucky. The Wildcats clawed their way back into the game and trailed by only 3 at halftime. Louisville led by 7 with four and a half minutes left in the game. Kentucky would lead for only 65 seconds the entire game, but it was good enough. The Wildcats are looking to make their third trip to the Final Four in the last four seasons.
Michigan won the Big Ten title outright for the first time in 28 seasons with a 15-3 record. A loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship game snapped a 7 game winning streak for the Wolverines. Michigan is making their fourth straight trip to the Tournament. The Wolverines lost to Louisville in the national championship game last season. The Wolverines beat #15 seed Wofford 57-40 in the second round , and then beat #7 Texas 79-65 in the third round. Both games were in Milwaukee.
In the semifinals, Michigan had a 60-45 lead against #11 Tennessee with 10:55 to go. The Wolverines still led 70-60 with 3:40 left. However, Michigan would turn the ball over four times in the last 97 seconds to allow Tennessee to pull within 72-71 with 10.8 seconds left. The Volunteers forced another turnover with 9.6 seconds when Michigan’s Caris LaVert stepped on the baseline while grabbing the inbounds pass. Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes was called for a controversial charge as he was driving to the hoop for the potential go ahead basket. Michigan would hold on for the 73-71 win. The Wolverines are looking to return to the Final Four for the second straight year after losing to Louisville in last year’s national championship game.
Kentucky leads the series against Michigan 4-2, including 1-1 in the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky beat Michigan in the Elite Eight in 1966. Michigan would beat Kentucky in the 1993 Final Four in an overtime thriller. The Wolverines would go on to lose to North Carolina in the Championship game in the infamous Chris Webber timeout game. Kentucky and Michigan have not played since that 1993 game.
Kentucky is coached by John Calipari. The Wildcats have losses to Michigan State in Chicago, Baylor in Arlington, TX, at North Carolina, Arkansas twice, at LSU, Florida 3 times, and at South Carolina. Kentucky has key wins over Robert Morris, Cleveland State, Eastern Michigan, Providence in Brooklyn, Boise State, Belmont, Louisville, Mississippi State twice, at Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Georgia twice, at Missouri, Ole Miss twice, at Auburn, LSU twice, and Alabama. Kentucky is 18-15-2 ATS and the total is 14-19-1 this season.
Kentucky is outscoring teams 75-66 this season. The Wildcats are shooting 45.2% from the field and 32.7 from 3 point range. Kentucky makes 68.4% of their free throws. Opponents are shooting 40.6% from the field and 31.9% from 3 point range. Kentucky is #56 or better in both categories nationally. The Wildcats average 40.9 rebounds per game and opponents average 27.5 per game. Kentucky is #6 in rebounding and #21 in rebounds allowed nationally. The Wildcats average 11.5 assists, 12.2 turnovers, 4.8 steals and 6.2 blocks per game. Opponents average 10.4 assists, 11 turnovers, 5.8 steals and 3.1 blocks per game.
Forward Julius Randle averages 15.1 points, 10.6 rebounds and 1.4 assists. Forward/guard James Young averages 14.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists. Guard Aaron Harrison averages 14.1 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1.1 steals per game. His twin brother Andrew averages 11 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game. Andrew injured his elbow in the second half against Kansas State but played against Wichita State. He is probable against Louisville. Forward Willie Cauley-Stein averages 7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 2.9 blocks per game. He injured his ankle in the first half against Louisville and is listed as doubtful Sunday. Alex Poythress and and Dakari Johnson will also get significant minutes.
Michigan is coached by John Beilein. The Wolverines have losses at Iowa State, to Charlotte in a tournament in Puerto Rico, at Duke, at Arizona, at Indiana, at Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan State. The Wolverines have key wins over Long Beach State and Florida State in Puerto Rico, Stanford in Brooklyn, Minnesota twice, Northwestern, Nebraska twice, Penn State, at Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan State twice, Purdue twice, Ohio State twice, at Illinois and Indiana. Michigan is 18-14-2 ATS and the total is 20-13-1 this season.
Michigan is outscoring teams 74-65 this season. The Wolverines are shooting 47.5% from the field and 39.8% from 3 point range. The Wolverines are #28 in field goal percentage and #8 in three point shooting. Michigan is #10 nationally in free throw shooting at 76.2% from the line. Wolverine opponents are shooting. 44% from the field and 31.2% from 3 point range. Michigan averages 31.7 rebounds per game and allow 29.2 from opponents. Michigan is #304 out of 351 teams nationally in rebounding. The Wolverines average 14.2 assists, 9.4 turnovers, 5.1 steals and 2.5 block per game. Opponents average 11.9 assists, 11 turnovers, 5 steals and 2.5 blocks per game.
Guard Nik Stauskas averages 17.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists. Forward Glenn Robinson III averages 13.1 points, 4.4 points, 1.2 assists, and 1 steal per game. Guard Caris LeVert averages 13.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.2 steals per game. Forward Mitch McGary averages 9.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.5 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. He is out indefinitely with a back injury. Guard Derrick Walton, Jr. averages 8.1 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. Zak Irvin, Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford, and Spike Albrecht will also get plenty of time in the rotation. Little used guard Cole McConnell is questionable with a foot injury.
Kentucky is 6-0 ATS against teams with winning records, overall, and in neutral site games, 5-0 in Sunday games and after a cover, 4-0 after a straight up win, in NCAA Tournament games, and in non-conference games, and 6-1-1 against Big Ten games.
Michigan is 3-0-2 ATS in non-conference games, 7-1-1 in NCAA Tournament games, 3-1-1 in neutral site games, overall, and against teams with winning records, and 2-5 in Sunday games.
Kentucky is trying to become only the second #8 seed since 2001 to make the Final Four. However, the Wildcats are far from your typical #8 seed. After epic emotional wins over Wichita State and Louisville, the young Wildcats (who start five freshmen) are finally starting to gel as a team and adhering to Calipari’s system. Michigan is rather young as well, with only one senior in their starting five. However, the Wolverines have several players who played key roles on last year’s National runner-up team. Kentucky wins but this should be yet another classic.