March 26, 2014

Midwest Regional features upstart Tennessee, perennial heavyweights

NCAA Midwest preview

No. 2 Michigan

Coach: John Beilein, 7th year

Record: 27-8, 15-3 in Big Ten, first place

Sweet 16 appearances: 13

How they got here: def. Wofford 57-40, def. Texas 79-65

Top player: Sophomore SG Nik Stauskas (17.4 pts., 45 percent 3-point shooting)

Will reach Arlington if … It can break even on the glass, and hit their season average in shooting. Michigan hits 48 percent of its shots, and 39 percent from 3.

No. 11 Tennessee

Coach: Cuonzo Martin, 3rd year

Record: 24-12, 11-7 in SEC, fourth place

Sweet 16 appearances: 6

How they got here: def. Iowa 78-65 (OT); def. UMass 86-67; def. Mercer 83-63

Top player: Junior PF Jarnell Stokes (15.2 pts., 10.7 rebs.)

Will reach Arlington if … The other teams miss. UT is nearly plus-nine in rebounding, giving it a chance in every game. The Vols are erratic scoring — shooting 33 percent from 3 — but get after opponents enough to keep games close. If the Vols can get quality guard play, they can reach Arlington.

No. 4 Louisville

Coach: Rick Pitino, 13th year

Record: 31-5, 15-3 in AAC, first place

Sweet 16 appearances: 27

How they got here: def. Manhattan 71-64, def. Saint Louis 66-51

Top player: Senior PG Russ Smith (18.3 pts., 4.7 ast., 2.1 steals)

Will reach Arlington if … It relies on the experience of veterans Russ Smith and Luke Hancock, who were starters for last year’s national title team. This team can handle the ball and pressure the perimeter as well as any team. Pitino is 16-0 in regional semifinal games. This is another deep team that is typical Pitino — hyper aggressive on offense and defense. Their problem will be size, which Kentucky will exploit.

No. 8 Kentucky

Coach: John Calipari, 5th year

Record: 26-10, 12-6 in SEC, second place

Sweet 16 appearances: 40

How they got here: def. Kansas State 56-49, def. Wichita State 78-76

Top player: Freshman F Julius Randle (15.1 pts., 10.6 rebs.)

Will reach Arlington if … It plays the way it did in the round of 32 game against top-seeded Wichita State. Kentucky’s loaded class of freshmen, three of whom are from Texas, played with consistent intensity against a great team. That was UK’s best game of the season, and showed why it was the preseason No. 1. This is such a tall team that if it’s focused, it can win it all. Calipari is 5-1 against Pitino.

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