If any team knows the ups and downs of the college basketball season, it’s the Kentucky Wildcats. Beginning the season ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls thanks to another stellar recruiting class by head coach John Calipari, the Wildcats were early favorites to win another championship with mostly freshmen running the show.
Then the season began and top freshman players like Julius Randle and James Young, along with the Harrison Twins, struggled in the SEC and didn’t own a single victory over a ranked opponent.
However, eighth-seeded Kentucky came together at the right time, and now meets last year’s runner-up in No. 2 Michigan in Sunday afternoon’s Midwest Region final in Indianapolis.
The Wildcats already eliminated No.1 Wichita State, and won its turf battle with in-state rival No. 4 Louisville in the Sweet 16 just to get back to the Elite Eight. Four Kentucky starters finished that game in double-figures, and gained the rebounding edge 37-29, while showing nerve beyond their years by shooting 22-for-27 from the free throw line.
Randle, Aaron Harrison and freshman center Dakari Johnson each scored 15 points against the Cardinals. Randle also added 12 rebounds for his 23rd double-double of the season. A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Johnson came through by besting his career-high in points and minutes with 31.
The Wolverines also ran into some trouble when they went 2-3 in a five-game stretch in the Big Ten, but are now playing their best basketball at the best time of the season. Counting the huge win over in-state rival and ranked Michigan State on Feb. 23, the Wolverines have gone 10-1 and survived a late scare and some sloppy mistakes down the stretch in the 73-71 Sweet 16 win over Tennessee.
During the close minutes of the game, Michigan committed four straight turnovers, 13 overall, and allowed the Vols to stay in the game. But senior forward Jordan Morgan recorded a team-high 15 points and seven rebounds, while sophomore guard Nik Stauskas added 14 points. Freshman guard Derrick Walton Jr. also contributed nine points, six rebounds and four assists.
There is some history between these two powerhouse schools. They’ve split their two previous matchups, with Michigan ousting the Wildcats back in 1993’s Final Four. Back then it was the Wolverines who changed the game with the famed “Fab Five” class, headlined by Chris Webber and Jalen Rose. Kentucky took the very first matchup back in 1966, also a regional final, by a score of 84-77.
TV Channel: CBS
Time: Sunday, 5:05 p.m. EST
Point Spread: Kentucky -2
Over/Under: 138.5 points
Prediction: Kentucky over Michigan, 66-63