Kentucky could use a win to enhance its resume while Michigan will be playing to get back into the Top 25 when the two meet Sunday in the Hall of Fame Showcase in London.
The No. 19 Wildcats (5-2) have posted five double-digit wins against overmatched competition but have lost their only two outings against top-flight opponents to Michigan State (86-77 in double-overtime) and then-No. 2 Gonzaga (88-72).
The Wolverines (5-2) aren’t ranked but pushed No. 3 Virginia to the wire in a 70-68 loss Tuesday. They started the season ranked No. 22 but fell into the “also-receiving-votes” category after losing 87-62 to Arizona State and needing an overtime to get by Ohio 70-66.
But coach Juwan Howard said he saw some good things in the Virginia game when the Wolverines led the Cavaliers by 11 points at halftime. After falling back by five points in the second half, they tied the game and had a shot at the win when Jett Howard’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer was blocked.
“The way that we competed,” Howard said. “The effort that we brought for 40 minutes. That’s the great positive you can take away from this game.”
In its last outing on Tuesday, Kentucky had a strong second-half against Bellarmine, breaking away from a 21-21 halftime tie to post a 60-41 win.
“In the second half I just said, ‘Look, guys, we’re going to have to grind it with them. If we have something easy, take it. If not, we’ll grind it out,'” coach John Calipari said. “Which there are some games you got to do it.”
The game in London will pit two of the top big men in the country in Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson and Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe.
Dickinson, a 7-foot-1 junior, leads the Wolverines in scoring (19.1), rebounding (9.1), and blocked shots (16). A 6-9 senior, Tshiebwe was last season’s national Player of the Year and is No. 2 in scoring for Kentucky (14.4) and No. 1 in rebounding (13.4) despite missing two games at the start of the season with a knee issue.
Antonio Reeves leads five Wildcats scoring in double figures with a 14.9 average. Howard (15.1) is the only other Wolverine who has averaged in double digits.
Though both teams have had the experience of summer trips overseas, this is only the third time Kentucky has played outside the U.S. during the regular season and the fifth such outing for Michigan.
The game was originally scheduled for December 2020 and COVID-19 issues delayed the game again in 2021.
Calipari said the trip will be a “great experience” for his players. The game will be played in The 02, an indoor arena in the Greenwich peninsula in South East London.
“It’s the first college game in that venue, which they say is the No. 1 venue in the world,” Calipari said. “We’re staying right in London. So, you know, not going to do a whole lot of sightseeing.”
–Field Level Media