In probably the strongest of the regions, the Midwest offers two excellent Sweet Sixteen games with Tennessee and Michigan playing before the main course of the day and what might be the biggest game of the night overall as the sibling rivalry of Kentucky and Louisville writes another chapter.
The semifinal night begins with Michigan, a #2 seed which relies heavily on its offensive abilities facing a surprising Tennessee team that at closer inspection shouldn’t have been underrated, as they’ve been very impressive in their three wins so far in the tournament.
Tennessee’s defense limits teams to only 61.4 points per game, and haven’t seen an opponent score 70 points against them through the last 11 games. Five of those teams couldn’t even top 50. But Michigan, unlike another Big Ten team the Vols beat just over a week ago (Iowa), are a bit more than just ordinary on offense. They shoot 47.5% from the field, finished third in the Big Ten with 74 points per game and have players who can make something out of nothing like Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas, who is averaging 17.4 points per game this season.
Tennessee have offensive weapons of their own like Jarnell Stokes, averaging 20.3 points and 15 rebounds per game since the tournament began, but it’s going to be their ability and hold Michigan well below their usual scoring average that determines whether they’re moving on to the Elite Eight for only the second time in program history.
A couple of hours later and the main event begins between the Wildcats and the Cardinals, the last two teams to win the national championship, although Kentucky don’t have anyone on their team that actually played in that season, which included beating Louisville in the Final Four.
Kentucky and Louisville played each other earlier this season with the Wildcats winning 73-66 in late December. But things have been quite a rollercoaster ride since then, as Louisville enter the game on an impressive winning streak that includes beating teams like UConn 81-48 followed by destroying Rutgers 92-31.
The difference between these two teams is probably in the way Kentucky need the game to go. They won’t win through a grind out. They beat Wichita State 78-76 thanks to a big night from the Harrison twins and some special clutch shooting from James Young, not to mention some bad officiating going their way. It’s going to take all that and more to beat a Cardinals team that’s probably a bit under-seeded compared to their dominance late in the season, especially in the conference tournament.
This is the game that people in the state talk about all year long, especially if it comes around in tournament time, something Kentucky missed out on last season. Maybe after hearing for months how bad they were as players, how selfish they were, they’re not together,and that this isn’t a team, the talent Calipari assembled for his one and done project is too good to stop.