Two teams from the same state on the same night of the Elite Eight, as UConn take on Michigan State followed by the big game of the evening, Kentucky playing against Michigan to wrap up the picture of the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four for 2014.
#7 UConn against #4 Michigan State will open the afternoon, as the team President Obama chose to win the tournament will try and move a little bit closer towards the unity they had in terms of cohesion on the floor before the February injuries. Adriean Payne, Keith Appling and Brandon Dawson all missed a certain amount of games and despite how good they’ve looked on defense in the win over Virginia, knocking off a number one team, there’s plenty to work on the offensive side.
And offense is all we’re going to see from Connecticut, or at least that’s what they’re going to try. DeAndre Daniels and Shabazz Napier will try and take this game away from the paint, or take away Michigan State’s perceived dominance close to the rim. It means either better ball movement, or putting fouls on Payne and Dawson early so things might go a bit smoother for the Huskies, who haven’t been to this stage since 2011, when a Kemba Walker led team won the national title. Niles Giffey and Shabazz Napier were on that team, and they’re surprisingly finding themselves in a similar situation just before the ending to their college days.
Michigan State haven’t been to the Final Four since 2010. A remarkable streak hangs at the balance: Since 1995, when Tom Izzo took over the program, every player he’s recruited who stayed four years has reached a Final Four. Appling and Payne have that hanging over their heads as they head into the game.
Later on, the main course, as #8 Kentucky play against #2 Michigan. Statistically, according to Kenpom, these two teams are very similar. The Wildcats, a team everyone criticized and disrespected by the end of the regular season, might actually have the edge.
If there’s going to be a scoring fest in the Elite Eight, it might be this game. Both teams don’t play all that well on defense, but are very difficult to stop offensively. For Kentucky it’s more about the athleticism and talent of the Harrison twins, James Young and Julius Randle. There’s plenty of talent among the Michigan players too, but there’s a bit more sense of team when they run their offensive sets, although a lot depends on the ability of one guy, Nik Stauskas.
John Calipari is talking in metaphors about runways and airplanes, but he and his players have found each other over the last two weekends. Suddenly it doesn’t look like every man for himself anymore, and there’s even some intense defense we’re seeing from a team branded as selfish and badly coached not too long ago.
Michigan need to get a bit out of their jump shooting mode in order to make things difficult for a Kentucky team that’s on a role right now, already beating two teams from the 2013 Final Four. Michigan just might be the third.