Thoughts on the Kentucky Wildcats, Louisville Cardinals and Michigan Wolverines

Smith and Johnson showing respect - Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky beat Louisville and plays Michigan next. Can Kentucky get past Michigan without Willie Cauley Stein?

Here's some thoughts about the win and the next game.

Louisville's Russ Smith is a class act and a great player. He's been a thorn in Kentucky's side for three years. After the game, he went to UK's locker room to congratulate the Cats.

Kentucky made the first basket of the game at the 19:09 mark when James Young made a layup off of Andrew Harrison's assist.

Luke Hancock ties it up at 2-2 on a layup at 18:59. Russ Smith puts the Cards ahead with 17:58 left in the half.

At 17: 31, James Young ties it at 4-4

16:42 - Smith makes a free throw at Louisville goes ahead 5-4.

13:05 Willy goes down and out with Kentucky trailing 16-5. Randle scores at 11:33 and Louisville leads 18-7. Kentucky begins its slow comeback with the half ending with Louisville ahead 34-31.

Louisville stretches its lead to six several times and takes a 7 point lead with 7:12 left in the game. Score: 59-52

James Young fouls out with 5:32 left and Louisville leading 64-57.  Poythress ties the game at 66-66  with 2:11 remaining

Montrezl Harrell fouls out with 1:26 remaining with game tied at 66-66.

Poythress gives the Cats the lead: 67-66

Smith gives the Cards the lead at 1:10 (68-67)

Aaron Harrison puts the Cats ahead for the final time with 39 seconds left.

You know the rest of the story.

Kentucky has had two straight games worthy of a regional final or a national semifinal. If anyone doubts that this is a different team than the one that lost to South Carolina and Florida in Gainesville, those anyones don't know basketball. Louisville was trying to protect their 2013 national title, but Kentucky had nothing to lose as an 8 seed battling a 4 seed.

Michigan is next up after beating Tennessee in the preliminary game. Michigan won by hitting a deadly 55% (11 of 20) from the 3 point range. The Vols won the TO%, OR% and the FT Rate battles, but the Wolverines and their three point game won the day. The only stats that matter are tournament stats. You can throw out the rest of the season. This is a new season and it began with the real round 1, not the play-in. Tennessee was the last of the last four in. Like Kentucky, Michigan is hot.

The Wolverines started off by beating 15 seed Wofford 57-40. Michigan was ahead at the half 34-20. They shot 3-6 behind the arc for the half and finished 7-17 for 41.2%. Wofford had 8 offensive rebounds to Michigan's 6, although Wofford lost the total rebounding 31-26.

Texas was next and Michigan beat them 79-65 after winning the first half 43-30. Michigan shot 50% from the three on 14-28. The Longhorns had the better end of rebounding 41-30 and out rebounded the Wolverines on the offensive glass 21-11. We already know how the Tennessee game worked out.

If Kentucky can't guard the three point shot, they have no chance of winning. Kentucky held K-State to 23.8% (5-21) from three point land. The Cats allowed Wichita St. to shoot 10-21 (47.6%) but they held Louisville to 26.7% on 4-15.

Free throws have been helping Kentucky get past K-State, Wichita State and Louisville. Michigan shot 66.7% (6-9) against Wofford, 81.0% (17-21) against Texas, and 80% (8-10) against Tennessee. Against Kansas State, Kentucky shot 66.7% (14-21), 72.7% (16-22) against the Shockers, and against Louisville the Cats shot 81.5% (22-27). The difference between Michigan and Kentucky is Michigan has shot 40 times from the charity stripe and made 31 (77.5%) while Kentucky has shot 70 times and made 52 (74.3%). While Michigan shoots a better percentage, they have taken 30 fewer shots and scored 21 fewer points at the line in the tournament. This, to me, says Michigan tends to shun the paint because they rely on the three. Kentucky's opponents have gone to the line 19 more times than Michigan's opponents and that tells me that the Wildcats are the more physical and aggressive team.

Michigan plays a six man rotation which has played 90.7% of the available minutes in the three games they've played in the tournament. Michigan's starters have played 84.0% of the available time. Kentucky has played essentially a six man rotation as well with a little Poythress and a dash of Polson added in.

Losing Willie Cauley-Stein created a dramatic change. He only played four minutes in the Louisville game after playing 28 against Kansas State and 23 minutes against Wichita State. Against Louisville, he failed to score and had one offensive rebound and one defensive rebound. Willie wasn't having a great tournament. Against Kansas State and Wichita State he had a combined 6 points, 5 offensive rebounds, 3 defensive rebounds, no free throws, 5 blocks, 6 steals, 1 assist and 1 turnover.

Johnson and Poythress were forced into larger roles because of Willie's injury. Prior to the Louisville game, Poythress had a combined 9 points, 2 offensive rebounds, 2 defensive rebounds, 1 block, no assists, no free throws, and no turnovers. Johnson had a combined 3 points, no offensive rebounds, 3 defensive rebounds, 1 block, 1 steal no assists and 1 turnover. Against Louisville, Poythress had 6 points, 2 free throws, 2 offensive rebounds, 2 defensive rebounds, 1 big block, 1 big steal, no assists and 1 turnover. Johnson put up 15 points, 3 offensive rebounds, 3 defensive rebounds, no steals, no blocks and 1 turnover in 31 minutes. Kentucky could not have won without Johnson and Poythress.

I'm saying it again, we can win this thing. Maybe we won't win, but I'll stick with staying we can.

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