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Elite Eight Preview and Picks: Michigan Wolverines vs. Kentucky Wildcats

John Calipari

John Calipari

On Selection Sunday, so much of the chatter involves the matchups, seeding and statistical trends that will be key in advancing through the NCAA Tournament.

Those are all at play, but Sunday’s Midwest regional final is a test on the intangibles.

Kentucky has been through one of the most hotly contested games of the Tournament against Wichita State and then a foul-filled game against Louisville that wasn’t settled until the final minutes.

“Everybody says that game was the best game ever played and this game was also a classic,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “We're so tired, we don't know. We have no idea if it was a good game, bad game. We just know we won. Let's get something to eat and go to bed.”

Michigan has had its own grind, albeit not over the course of two weeks like Kentucky. The Wolverines jumped to a substantial lead against Tennessee before four consecutive turnovers allowed the Volunteers to narrow the deficit to one point in the final 13 seconds.

On Sunday, all that resets to zero with a Final Four on the line.

Michigan vs. Kentucky
Time: 4:55 p.m. Eastern
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Greg Anthony
Region: Midwest (Indianapolis)

Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Michigan 78-71
Braden Gall: Michigan 78-72
Mitch Light: Michigan 83-80
Nathan Rush: Kentucky 80-78

How Michigan got here:

A year ago, Mitch McGary’s size gave Michigan an element it had been lacking, enabling the Wolverines to reach the national title game. Michigan doesn’t have quite the impact presence of McGary in the frontcourt — though Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford have played well. Michigan, though, has been on fire from 3-point range shooting 49.2 percent (32 of 65) from beyond the arc in the Tournament.

How Kentucky got here:

Aaron Harrison has taken the next step in his game. Kentucky’s freshman guard is averaging 17.3 points per game in the NCAA Tournament, tops for the Wildcats. Aaron Harrison has been solid as well, averaging 13.7 points. The development of Kentucky’s backcourt has transformed the Wildcats from the team that played its way into a No. 8 seed into a title contender.

Key for Michigan to get to the Final Four: Overwhelm Kentucky on offense

John Beilein knows how to coach an offensive basketball game. His team neutralized Tennessee’s size advantage in the Sweet 16 by shooting 11 of 20 from 3-point range. Michigan also can get to the rim, but 3-point shooting is the Wolverines’ bread-and-butter. Kentucky ranks 52nd nationally (31.8 percent) in defending the 3-point line.

Key for Kentucky to get to the Final Four: Own the offensive glass

Kentucky is second in the nation in offensive rebound rate while Michigan ranks  259th. There’s an opportunity for the Wildcats to own the offensive glass on both ends. The only catch: Willie Cauley-Stein likely will not play. He is Kentucky’s best offensive rebounder after Julius Randle.

Player to watch: Dakari Johnson, Kentucky

One of the more anonymous members of Kentucky’s star-studded freshman class, Johnson will be in focus in the Elite Eight. With Cauley-Stein, Johnson’s workload likely will increase. He showed he’s capable of making the most of it with 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting against Louisville.