Indianapolis • If the crew of growing-on-the-job freshmen at Kentucky find themselves in Dallas next week, nobody can tell them they didn’t take the toughest path possible.
Their journey through the ups-and-downs of college basketball has been rough. And their road to the Final Four this year has looked, well, very much like the actual Final Four last year.
Region championshipsUConn (29-8) vs. Michigan State (29-8) at New YorkSunday, 12:20 p.m., Ch. 2
» Michigan (28-8) vs. Kentucky (27-10), Sunday, 3:05 p.m., Ch. 2
Last week, the eighth-seeded Wildcats (27-10) knocked off previously undefeated Wichita State. On Friday, they took down defending national champion Louisville. Next up, on Sunday in the final of the brutal Midwest Regional, it’s Michigan.
Yes, that’s three of last year’s Final Four teams in the span of eight days — all for a team that, according to coach John Calipari, is only starting to play this game the way it was meant to be played.
"The only thing I can tell you is, we just keep moving on," Calipari said. "The best thing about this for me as a coach is, I’ve continued to coach like it’s midseason."
In an attempt to get some positive response from his team, Calipari actually lengthened practices and made them more physical the last three or four weeks. He’s been doing some tweaking with strategy — and will need to do more with the likely absence of 7-foot center Willie Cauley-Stein with a left ankle injury.
What are those tweaks?
"I’m going to wait until it’s over and I’ll go through everything that we did and when I did it," he said. "When you hear what I did, you’ll say: ‘Makes perfect sense.’ And then you’re going to ask: ‘Why didn’t you do it earlier?’ And I’m going to tell you: ‘I don’t know. I should have.’"
While Calipari keeps trying to figure out his Kentucky players, Michigan’s John Beilein will take a crack at it, as well.
The second-seeded Wolverines (28-8) are young, too. They start three sophomores and one freshman, along with the only senior on the roster, Jordan Morgan Jr. Morgan took over for forward Mitch McGary when he had back surgery in January. McGary’s loss, along with the NBA departures of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., made Michigan somewhat overlooked for much of the season.
Winning the Big Ten regular-season title by three games didn’t change that much.
Losing the Big Ten tournament championship game to Michigan State dropped the Wolverines out of a top-seeding position and even farther out of the limelight.
"Sometimes it gets personal when people talk about our inability to compete with people," Morgan said. "And it’s like, we’ve been competing all year long."
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