Michigan basketball vs. Kentucky: Scouting report, prediction for game in London




Michigan basketball coach Juwan Howard looks back on his team's trip to Europe this summer fondly.

The Wolverines made stops in Paris, Athens and Mykonos. It was the first time his team met its newest teammate, Youssef Khayat, the first opportunity to see how his new-look squad would play together and the first time he saw his sons, Jett and Jace Howard, in Michigan uniforms in a game together.

Now, the Wolverines are back in Europe, this time in London, and the stakes are much higher.

On the heels of a heartbreaking loss to No. 3 Virginia at home, Michigan (5-2) gets a second shot at a signature non-conference victory, this time against No. 19 Kentucky (5-2) in the Hall of Fame London Showcase - the first NCAA basketball game at the O2 Arena.

Here are some keys to watch when the Wolverines (KenPom No. 48) take on the Wildcats (KenPom No. 6) at 1 p.m. Sunday on ABC:

Battle of the All-Americans

Two of the best centers in college basketball is this game's marquee matchup: Kentucky's Oscar Tshiebwe vs. Michigan's Hunter Dickinson.

Michigan center Hunter Dickinson blocks a shot by Virginia guard Kihei Clark in the second half of Michigan
Michigan center Hunter Dickinson blocks a shot by Virginia guard Kihei Clark in the second half of Michigan's 70-68 loss on Tuesday, Nov.  

Tshiebwe, the reigning National Player of the Year and consensus All-American last season, missed the first two games of this season with injury, but has since averaged 14.4 point and 13.4 rebounds in five games while shooting 56.4% from the floor.

It's hard to imagine where the Wolverines would be without Dickinson. The team's leading scorer (19.1 points) and rebounder (9.1 rebounds) has been Howard's most consistent player by far this season, scoring 22 points or more in four of the first seven games.

Kentucky
Kentucky's Oscar Tshiebwe (34) dunks during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against North Florida in Lexington, Ky.  

Most teams have sent double teams at Dickinson, but Tshiebwe might have enough size to slow him down alone. If he does, that will make things tough on a the Michigan offense, because the attack has been at its best when working through its center.

Kentucky seniors and shooters

Kentucky's shooters have had more success outside than the Wolverines this season. The Wildcats have made 37.4% of their 3-pointers while Michigan is shooting just 32.9%. Two of John Calipari's most effective shooters are senior transfers - CJ Fredrick from Iowa and Antonio Reeves from Illinois State.

Reeves is the team's leading scorer (14.9) and while he's shooting 43.2% from the field, he's made 46.9% (23-for-49) of his long balls. Fredrick meanwhile is averaging 10.3 points per game on 35.9% 3-point shooting, but broke out of a slump against Bellarmie, making 3-of-7 from deep after making just one over the previous two games.

Kentucky has more senior experience than ever under Calipari, with four fourth-year players playing significant minutes.

Senior forward Jacob Toppin, a one-time Rhode Island transfer and brother of New York Knicks lottery pick Obi Toppin, adds depth and balance with 12.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.

Senior point guard Sahvir Wheeler, in his second year in the program after two years at Georgia, is averaging 8.5 points and a team-best 7.3 assists per game. The 5-foot-9 guard had a standout game against Michigan State this season, with a season-high 16 points and eight rebounds.

Feb 19, 2022; Lexington, Kentucky, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Sahvir Wheeler celebrates during the second half against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center.
Feb 19, 2022; Lexington, Kentucky, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Sahvir Wheeler celebrates during the second half against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center.  

Freshman Cason Wallace, a 6-4 guard, is also off to a nice start to his career, averaging 10.6 points, 4.6 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game. He has been Kentucky's best perimeter defender over the first month, recording nearly three steals per game.

Michigan's three keys to victory

Rebounding, protect the paint and outside shooting.

These have been areas of weakness for Howard's team, but there were promising signs in the last game against Virginia, most notably on the glass. The Wolverines didn't give up an offensive rebound in the first half and surrendered just two second-chance points in the contest.

But that didn't translate to protecting the paint well. Virginia's guards had straight lines to the basket frequently and the Cavaliers would use pick-and-rolls to get a Dickinson away from the hoop and then attack. Virginia went 16-for-28 on layups and had 44 points in the paint. Michigan is 89th in KenPom's adjusted defense.

Michigan guard Jett Howard is defended by Virginia guard Reece Beekman in the second half of Michigan
Michigan guard Jett Howard is defended by Virginia guard Reece Beekman in the second half of Michigan's 70-68 loss on Tuesday, Nov.  

Don't be surprised to see Tarris Reed Jr. a little more as another big body to frustrate Tshiebwe. Howard has yet to play his two centers (Dickinson and Reed) together this season, but this may be a spot to experiment with that.

Michigan shot well in the first half on Tuesday (7-for-13), but finished just 1-for-5 in the second half and didn't make a 3-pointer the final 18:40 of the game. Jett Howard has been Michigan's best shooter; the freshman is making 43.8% of his 3-pointers on 6.9 attempts per game. He's second on the team with 15.1 points per game.

Duke transfer Joey Baker technically leads the team at 50% (10-for-20) from 3 but needs more attempts; after going 7-for-12 in his first three games, he's just 3-for-8 over the last four games. But starting point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is shooting 20% on 3-pointers this season, but has slowly started to pick it up, going 5-for-14 the last three games after an 0-for-11 start to the season.

Michigan guard Kobe Bufkin dribbles up court in the second half of Michigan
Michigan guard Kobe Bufkin dribbles up court in the second half of Michigan's 70-68 loss on Tuesday, Nov.  

The same holds true for fellow starting guard Kobe Bufkin. He's made just 18.5% of his field goals, but is 3-for-8 in the last two games.

Terrance Williams has also regressed. The junior led Michigan in 3-point shooting (38.5%) last season on just 1.7 attempts, but hasn't been able to maintain that efficiency. He's attempting more than twice as many looks (3.9 per game) this year, but so far shooting just 29.6%.

Prediction

Michigan showed notable improvement last game against Virginia but it's hard to get up emotionally two games in a row against such quality opponents. Kentucky's length gives teams fits on the offensive end and Michigan already enters play struggling to find scoring consistency beyond Dickinson and Howard. Michigan will once again hang around with a Final Four-caliber team, but the chemistry isn't there yet to close a game of this magnitude. The pick: Kentucky 78, Michigan 71.

Contact Tony Garcia at apgarcia@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter at @realtonygarcia.

Next up: Wildcats

Matchup: Michigan (5-2) vs. No. 18 Kentucky (5-2), Basketball Hall of Fame London Showcase.

Tipoff: 1 p.m. Sunday; O2 Arena, London.

TV/radio: ABC; WWJ-AM (950).

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan basketball vs. Kentucky: Scouting report, prediction

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