Versatile Guard Play Gives Michigan a Shot to Beat KentuckyPosted by Deepak Jayanti on March 30th, 2014
Even though Jordan Morgan held his own against Jarnell Stokes during the Sweet 16 game, facing Kentucky’s Julius Randle in the Elite Eight is a whole another ballgame. As we try to evaluate the Michigan – Kentucky match-up, there are certain weaknesses on both sides that stick out immediately. If Randle was able to put up 15 points and 12 rebounds against Louisville’s lengthy frontline, he should have no problems going off for 25 points and 15 rebounds against Michigan’s depleted frontcourt. So, Kentucky dominates the paint, controls the glass and beats Michigan comfortably, right? Not so fast. Vegas has Michigan as a two-point underdog, but it has certain personnel that will force Kentucky to play out of their realm.
Yes, we know that the Wildcats have played at a higher level in the postseason, but let’s not forget that they almost lost to the Shockers – a team with multiple guards that can handle the ball and shoot from beyond the arc. And what is Michigan’s strength? Not a complete coincidence, but similar to the Shockers, they have multiple guys who can handle the ball with ease and can drill the long-range shot if given a chance. Imagine Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert moving the ball horizontally in the half-court and forcing the Harrison twins to not only keep up with them, but also keep eye out for Derrick Walton and Glenn Robinson III on the perimeter.While Randle could dominate on the offensive end, his defensive skills will be tested against four guards who can dribble their way into the paint easily. Will he be able to stay out of foul trouble as Stauskas and LeVert drive the lane off the screens? Even if he gets into foul trouble in the first half and has to ride the pine for 5-6 minutes, it will give the Michigan guards an opportunity to stay ahead. Remember, against the Shockers, the Kentucky backcourt had no answer for Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker off the screens. That could happen again on this afternoon.
Even before the Wichita State game, Kentucky has shown its weakness against teams filled with talented guards. They lost to Arkansas twice during the conference season. The Razorbacks have one player over 6’7 and even he is just a freshman. Three of Kentucky’s non-conference losses were to North Carolina, Michigan State and Baylor – three teams who play up and down keep the guards active on defense. Heck, Russ Smith almost took down Kentucky by himself with his 23 points. Preferring to play a fast-paced game is one thing, but having the ability to defend the transition game is not an easy task. Check out Luke Winn’s analysis about Kentucky’s transition defense before their game against the Cardinals. The Harrison twins and James Young give up 1.15 PPP on defense during transition, but once they are settle down in the half-court, they give just 0.76 PPP. John Beilein could let his guards run amok and the Wildcats could have trouble keeping up for forty minutes. The game won’t just be decided in the paint, it will also be decided by Kentucky’s ability to get back on defense and protect the rim.