It's young vs. younger in Midwest Regional final

  • Article by: SHANNON RYAN , Chicago Tribune
  • Updated: March 29, 2014 - 11:41 PM

Michigan’s sophomores face Kentucky’s freshmen, before both teams could see mass departures for the pros.

Michigan guard Nik Stauskas might have his eyes on the NBA draft after claiming Big Ten Player of the Year honors as a sophomore.

Photo: David J. Phillip • Associated Press,

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– While last season was supposed to be the year for Michigan, this might have to be the year. The same might be true for Kentucky, the Wolverines’ opponent in the Midwest Regional final.

Next year’s rosters are bound to look different for both teams, and not because of graduating seniors.

The bulk of Kentucky’s young and elite roster could jump to the NBA, most likely seeing departures from freshman forward Julius Randle (a potential lottery pick), freshman forward James Young and sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein. The freshman Harrison brothers, Andrew and Aaron, could enter the draft as well.

And a couple more games like the one he had against Louisville in the Sweet 16 with 15 points and six rebounds, and 7-footer Dakari Johnson would be an NBA commodity.

Michigan, which lost guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. from last year’s national runner-up team, probably won’t have the same roster next season either, despite its youth.

Guard Nik Stauskas is considered a first-round selection in the NBA draft if the Big Ten Player of the Year leaves after his sophomore season. Sophomores Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary, who played in only eight games this season because of a back injury, could make the jump as well.

Starting only one freshman with three sophomores and a senior, Michigan seems like a veteran team compared to Kentucky. The Wildcats famously — or infamously, depending whom you ask — start five freshmen.

“This was never the plan,” Wolverines coach John Beilein said. “We thought we’d have a bunch of cagey veterans out here getting it done in so many ways, the way some teams have been very successful in the past.”

Coaching young players is a unique challenge.

“I think the biggest challenge to having young teams is, No. 1, defense, which comes and goes with young players,” said Beilein, whose Wolverines are shooting 49.2 percent from three-point range in the NCAA tournament. “But No. 2 is understanding that the team comes first.”

An interesting side note to this Elite Eight meeting is that Kentucky is trying to become the first team that starts all freshmen to advance to the Final Four since Michigan’s famed Fab Five did it in 1992 at the Metrodome.

“It is a pretty cool thing, but I’m worried about playing Michigan,” Randle said. “We are trying to do something special. We are trying. We are focused on us and our focus is on Michigan and not comparing ourselves to history. We are trying to make our own history.”

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