Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison is easily playing his best ball of the season, and he’s coming off a 14-point, seven-assist game in the pressure-packed environment against Louisville. He was able to use his size and strength to get to the lane at will against the smaller U of L guards, and he’s likely to have a similar advantage for much of the matchup against Michigan.
Derrick Walton Jr. is Michigan’s only freshman starter. He’s steady with the ball — an almost 2-to-1 assist/turnover ratio — and, like Harrison, his confidence has grown throughout the season. He’s made six of eight three-point attempts in the NCAA Tournament and is a 42-percent shooter from outside on the season.
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The hero of Friday’s victory was Aaron Harrison, and he’ll be riding that high into Sunday’s game. He’s scored 14 or more points in all six of UK’s post-season games and has made 18 of 38 threes in that span. Like his brother, he’s clicking at the right time for the Cats.
Nik Stauskas is Michigan’s leading scorer, a first-team All-American and one of the best shooters in the country. John Calipari conceded Saturday that Stauskas will get up his share of shots Sunday. The UK coach hopes his players will contest as many of those as possible. He’s made 90 of 201 threes (44.8 percent) this season.
Dakari Johnson matched a career high with 15 points Friday night, and he made several plays in big moments of that game. Johnson also showed UK fans a little more of his game away from the basket. He was strong once again on the offensive boards — one of his best traits. He’ll have a 4-inch height advantage on his starting counterpart Sunday. With Willie Cauley-Stein likely out, Johnson will need to avoid foul trouble.
The only senior on Michigan’s squad is Jordan Morgan, a 6-8, 250-pounder who shoots nearly 70 percent from the field. “He is much better than you think,” Calipari said. “He understands how a big man in that offense has to play.” Morgan is a smart veteran and could use that to his advantage against UK’s youngsters. Coach John Beilein calls him the “minister of defense.”
Julius Randle has double-doubles in all three NCAA Tournament victories and a total of 23 on the season. He’s the best rebounder in this game, and he’ll have a considerable size advantage against the Wolverines. Michigan is not a good defensive team — No. 99 in the country according to the KenPom ratings — and a player like Randle could be in for a big day.
Michigan’s second-leading scorer is Glenn Robinson III, the 6-6 son of former Purdue star Glenn Robinson. The younger Robinson rarely leaves the court (he’s played all but five minutes of Michigan’s past two games) and he’s scored in double figures in 11 of the past 12. He’s not a great three-point shooter, but he’s not afraid to take those shots and can knock them down when left open.
James Young was the only Wildcat in the scoring column for the first eight-plus minutes of Friday’s game, then he largely disappeared. He’s been inconsistent in the NCAA Tournament (only one double-digit scoring game), and the Cats could use a big effort on the perimeter Sunday.
Caris LeVert earned second-team all-Big Ten honors and is Michigan’s third-leading scorer, one point behind Robinson. LeVert often defends the opponent’s No. 1 offensive player and leads the Wolverines with 42 steals.
The loss of Willie Cauley-Stein — he’s doubtful for this game with an ankle injury — leaves big question marks for the Wildcats reserves. Sophomore Alex Poythress will now be the top UK player off the bench. Seldom-used freshman Marcus Lee will likely be pressed into action in the frontcourt, especially if any of Kentucky’s post players get in foul trouble. Dominique Hawkins played 15 minutes against Louisville — the most for him since early January. Calipari said he specifically liked how Hawkins matched up against the Cards, so senior Jarrod Polson could return to his role of top backcourt reserve Sunday.
Jon Horford — the 6-10 brother of former Florida star Al Horford — leads the Wolverines in blocked shots and averages 4.2 rebounds despite playing just 13.8 minutes per game. Zak Irvin
— Indiana’s Mr. Basketball last year — came off the bench and made all three of his three-point attempts Friday night against Tennessee. He has shot 42.1 percent on threes this season. Spike Albrecht showed what he could do from three-point range last season, when he made four threes in a row and scored 17 points in the first half of the national title game against Louisville.
Michigan has been here before. Unlike the Cats, these Wolverines have a previous history of tournament success: last year’s run to the national title game. They’re unlikely to get rattled in tough situations. Kentucky arguably has the most raw talent in the tournament and has already knocked off undefeated Wichita State and the defending national champions. The Cats have momentum, and that’s a dangerous thing this time of year. Judging from the crowd Friday, UK will also have more fan support. That helps too.