Michigan and Louisville meet in a game worthy of a national championship. Forget about that #4 seed by Michigan. They have played like the best team in the tournament for large stretches, and since Trey Burke hit the saving shot against Kansas, they have surged with their renewed opportunity. Louisville has been the favorite since the start of the tournament, and has nothing to diminish that on the way to this game. They had dominated the Midwest Region, winning three games by at least 22 points and never really tested. The test came against Wichita State, and Louisville was able to finally generate turnovers to create the late run.
It’s a game worthy because of the showdown between the #1 offense and the #1 defense. It presents the team that has been best at avoiding turnovers (Michigan) against the team that best at forcing them with its pressure. The National Player of the Year in Trey Burke (who will try to be the first Naismith award winner since Anthony Davis to win a national title) goes against the backcourt of Russ Smith and Peyton Siva. Russ Smith was the Ken Pomeroy player of the year, flying under the radar in national player of the year talk. He now has a chance to join just four other players in scoring 20 points in six tournament games in the same year (Richard Hamilton, Glen Rice, Danny Manning, and Johnny Dawkins).
The #1 rated offense and #1 defense (by Pomeroy’s ratings) have not met in the tournament in the last decade. Eleven meetings between opponents rated in the top 3 have occurred (including Michigan over Florida this year). The “offensive” team has gone 6-5, though that hardly tells us anything. The higher seed has also gone 6-4 (Kansas and North Carolina in the 2008 National Semifinal were the other).
Stylistically, the teams are different, and it should make for a great “roll the ball out and see who’s best is better” type game. Michigan will rely on Burke to handle pressure and create shots for himself and the other shooters. Louisville will try to turn Michigan over and generate more tempo so that Michigan cannot just sit back in the half court and shorten the game.
Structurally, they are similar, featuring excellent guard play, a myriad of wing players in the 6’5″ to 6’6″ range, and limited inside options with only one true big man likely to be on the floor for most of the game. Mitch McGary’s has emerged as the interior star for Michigan, and Gorgui Dieng is the inside presence as the shot blocker for Louisville. The one who can play the most minutes likely gives his team a strategic advantage.
Louisville entered as the favorites, but I feel Michigan has matched them, and as far as talent and ability I think are every bit the match in this one. We haven’t seen a #1 seed lose a title game (other than to another #1 seed) since Arizona beat defending champ Kentucky in overtime in 1997. Before that? You have to go back to Kansas in ’88 at the end of all those upsets in that decade.
The Pick: I’m going with Michigan (+4) in a close one that should come down to the wire (and hopefully won’t be impacted by a referee decision in the last minute). Trey Burke should step up to the challenge in this one, and it is a different matchup than the length of Syracuse’s zone, and one I think where he will thrive. Obviously, if Louisville can get to him and turn him over, congratulations, because they will be champs. I haven’t mentioned Kevin Ware yet, but we saw that defensively Louisville had to steal minutes and were not as effective with the press for a full game. That factor, and the emergence of McGary and the rest of the Wolverine’s youth, makes me think this is tighter than the season long numbers would project.
Michigan 73, Louisville 71
[photo via USA Today Sports Images]