A Look Ahead: (8) Kentucky Wildcats

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

After briefly looking at the Louisville Cardinals yesterday, today we'll take a look at Michigan's other potential Elite 8 opponent, the young and talented 8th-seed Kentucky Wildcats.

Like yesterday, insert "this is not an assumption of Friday victory" caveat here. We've got a few days, might as well get to know our potential Elite 8 opponents (again, should we get there).

Season So Far

For most teams, a 26-10 (12-6) record and a second place conference finish would be considered a great finish. For Kentucky, however, it could be considered somewhat of a disappointment, especially after immeasurable preseason hype based on yet another monster freshman class.

Despite playing in what many would consider a weak conference, the Wildcats boasted the No. 2 strongest schedule, with a nonconference schedule featuring Michigan State, Baylor, North Carolina and Louisville. UK struggled against the RPI top 25 (1-5) and the RPI top 50 (4-6), but went 10-3 against the 51-100 squads on the schedule.

UK's best wins of the season were: Louisville (No. 19); Michigan's opponent on Friday, Tennessee (No. 41) ; Providence (No. 43); and Missouri (No. 47).

Personnel

Outside of sophomores Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress, the Wildcats are powered by a quartet of hypertalented freshmen. Aaron (14.1 ppg) and Andrew Harrison (10.1 ppg) provide plenty of offensive punch, while shooting 34 and 36 percent from three, respectively.

Big man Julius Randle leads the team in points (15.1 ppg) and is overall UK's most dangerous player--he also pulls in a whopping 12.5 ppg, using his 6-foot-8, 250 pound NBA-ready frame to bully his way into the paint and through defenders all game.

The 6-foot-6 forward from Rochester Hills, Mich., James Young, is by far UK's most frequent three-point gunner, with 222 attempts on the season made at a 34.2 percent clip.

But wait, there's more! The aforementioned Cauley-Stein gets lost in the shuffle, which is pretty impressive for a 7-footer. Nonetheless, he shoots a sterling 60 percent from the field, naturally all around the basket. He's also a rim-protector, as he ranks first in the SEC in block percentage (20th nationally).

Really, I could go on and on. The questions about this team have never been about talent; it's tough to say that anyone in the country, even the far more experienced Michigan State squad, has more pure talent. But, of course, pure talent doesn't always put up banners.

If Michigan does get by Tennessee to face these Wildcats, there will be mismatches, most obviously on the inside. With that said, Michigan has experience (a strange thing to say about a team powered mostly by underclassmen) and as far as strategy goes, one would be hard pressed to give the edge to the opponent in a game in which John Beilein is roaming the sidelines, performing magic in every situation save inbound plays (oddly).

However, UK is two wins away from putting up another banner in Rupp Arena. To get there, they'll have to get through a Louisville squad that is still the champion until someone knocks them out of this year's tournament.

Miscellaneous Stats

  • The charity stripe. With all that size and talent, it's no wonder that these Wildcats get to the line frequently. During conference play, they ranked 3rd in the SEC and 32nd nationally in free throw rate.
  • Windex. In the same vein, the 'Cats are monsters are on offensive glass, where they ranked fourth nationally in ORB% (40.7 percent). Again, that would be a major problem against a Michigan team that allows second and third chances far more than anyone would like.
  • Double-edged sword. The downside of all that talent? Sometimes it can result in a collection of singular talents as opposed to an efficiently functioning ball of synergistic glory. UK's assist percentage ranked 12th in the SEC and 305th nationally. As always, Michigan will want to slow the game down and force UK to execute in halfcourt sets.

Rough Assessment

To be honest, I wasn't sure if UK would win more than one tournament game, but here they are in the Sweet 16 after knocking off Kansas State and 1-seed Wichita State. UK now meets hated rival Louisville in what might be the most anticipated game of the tournament thus far.

The matchups across the board are fairly terrifying, and yet the Wildcats still managed to lose 10 games this season. This certainly isn't the national title squad of a couple of years ago...well, yet.

Either way, if this matchup does come to fruition, it would be an incredibly fun one to watch, featuring NBA talent on both sides all over the floor.

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