Kentucky vs. Michigan and Michigan St. vs. UConn: Which make the Final Four?
In the Elite Eight games on Sunday, there will be two teams that inhabit the state of Michigan and two other teams that inhabited various states of disarray not long ago.
Michigan and Michigan State, arguably, were supposed to be here. Kentucky and Connecticut most certainly did not offer anyone that level of certitude. But it's the Wolverines and the Wildcats battling for one Final Four spot and the Spartans and Huskies tangling for the other.
Here's an early look at how each team might get to Dallas:
Why Michigan will make the Final Four. It begins as usual with the offense, a multifarious attack featuring six players who can contribute and, among those, maybe three or four that absolutely can detonate. The Wolverines have the patience and the ability to seek out good shots and make them, and shoot over Kentucky's size. Michigan was 11-of-20 from long distance on Friday against Tennessee, which followed the 14 it sank in the round of 32 against Texas. And it is not a team likely to get rattled by the moment: After reaching the national title game last season, the Wolverines are 15-0 in games decided by 10 or fewer points this year. Michigan may want to do better with the leads it gets, but it can survive if it gets hairier than it hoped.
Why Kentucky will make the Final Four. Because no team is playing better, with more resiliency, along a tougher path to get to the regional final. The Wildcats dispatched a tough Kansas State team, then beat an undefeated, national title favorite in Wichita State, and the beat another national title favorite in Louisville. And they did it spotting the Cardinals a double-digit lead almost before anyone had yanked their warmup shirts over his head. Against Michigan, Kentucky again will have a decided size advantage just about everywhere. The Wildcats have had double-digit offensive rebounds in six straight games, which is allowing them to make up for their own mistakes consistently.
Why Michigan State will make the Final Four. Because everyone is healthy and -- stop us if you've heard this one before -- when everyone is healthy, the Spartans are as deep and formidable as any team in the country. The 44.7 percent shooting against Virginia on Friday should have a degree-of-difficulty component; it is actually a massively impressive number when considering the Cavaliers were No. 5 in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. If the backcourt battle with Connecticut is bound to be a draw, at best, the contributions are pouring in from Michigan State's front court. Branden Dawson has averaged 25 points and 9.5 rebounds in his past two games. Adreian Payne has three double-digit scoring efforts in the NCAA tournament. Gary Harris and Keith Appling are equipped to make it difficult on the Huskies guards and cut the attack off at the head.
Why Connecticut will make the Final Four. You cannot underestimate the value of a March breakthrough and the momentum it creates. That's true in the macro sense for the Huskies but also true on a more specific level, with DeAndre Daniels dropping 27 points and 10 rebounds on Iowa State on Friday and suddenly providing Connecticut hope that it has the material on hand to measure up to Michigan State's bigs. If it doesn't, there is the indefatigable Shabazz Napier, who has averaged 22.7 points, six rebounds and 4.7 assists in the NCAA tournament and is unlikely to be slowed even by premier defenders in the Spartans' backcourt. There is also the not-so-small matter of a Madison Square Garden crowd which should be staunchly and vociferously behind Connecticut, providing energy if and when needed.[si_video id="video_8AF3CED9-A7E6-D87E-3EE9-08CD3E926047"]