(Updated: UPDATES TIP-IN No. 1 with Wisconsin victory)
Michigan is one win away from its second straight Final Four, while Kentucky is hoping to return for the third time in the last four seasons when the teams face off Sunday in Indianapolis. Both teams won thrillers on Friday, starting with the second-ranked Wolverines edging Tennessee 73-71 led by Jordan Morgan, who registered team highs of 15 points and seven rebounds and took a key charge in the final seconds. Michigan appeared as if it would face Louisville in a rematch of the 2013 national title game before the Cardinals were stunned 74-69 by the eighth-seeded Wildcats, who received a go-ahead 3-pointer from Aaron Harrison in the final minute.
“They finally have surrendered and lost themselves in the team. It’s just taken a long time,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari, whose team was ranked No. 1 in the preseason before dropping out of the top 25 entirely late in the year. Michigan has been a stalwart near the top of the rankings all year, and the team has won 10 of 11 games heading into this matchup. “Guys are happy we’re happy moving on and going to the next round and we’re just excited to have the opportunity to go to the Final Four,” commented Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas after contributing 14 points in Friday’s victory.
ABOUT KENTUCKY (27-10): The Wildcats, who are aiming to become just the second No. 8 seed to reach the Final Four since 2001, boast a starting lineup that features five freshmen, headlined by Julius Randle, who has opened the NCAA tournament with three straight double-doubles. Harrison is shooting 9-of-15 from 3-point range over his last three games while fellow freshman Dakari Johnson hopes to build off his career high-tying 15 points against the Cardinals. One negative for Kentucky is the status of sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein, the team’s top rim protector, who left early in Friday’s game with an ankle injury that prompted Calipari to say, “It’s not a good ankle injury. Let me just put it that way.”
ABOUT MICHIGAN (28-8): The Wolverines flashed some impressive shooting numbers against the Volunteers - 55.1 percent from the field, 11-of-20 from the 3-point line and 8-of-10 from the free-throw stripe. Stauskas (17.3 points) has been Michigan’s primary star this season and enters this contest shooting 17-of-36 from outside the arc over his last five games. Freshman swingman Zak Irvin continues to provide a nice spark off the bench, going 3-of-3 from 3-point range against Tennessee - the fourth time in five games that he has made multiple 3s off the bench.
1. The winner will face West regional champion Wisconsin in the Final Four next Saturday.
2. The Wolverines and Wildcats have met twice before in the NCAA tournament. The more recent matchup came in the 1993 national semifinal, won by Michigan 81-78.
3. Morgan has shot at least 50 percent from the field in 13 consecutive games. The senior forward was 7-of-9 against Tennessee.
PREDICTION: Kentucky 70, Michigan 62