Louisville and Michigan have made it to the final.
Rick Pitino’s Cardinals had to scratch and claw for a win over Wichita State last night. It was strange to see Louisville in a close game as they breezed into the final four without a problem, blowing by elite teams like Duke and Oregon. It likely gave Louisville a taste of what the game on Monday night will be like.
Syracuse and Michigan followed up the classic played by Louisville and Wichita State with a barnburner of their own. After leading most of the game, Michigan experienced some turbulence in the final minutes. Turnovers and missed free throws kept the Orange in the game down the stretch, but Michigan was able to come up with several stops down the stretch (including this controversial charge–allow me to direct you to my “five ideas to improve college basketball” post) to win the game.
John Beilein’s team put on a clinic for how to beat a zone, destroying Syracuse on the glass, spraying threes, and moving the ball rapidly around and through the zone. Now they will try to find a way to beat Louisville’s full court press and matchup zone.
Storylines abound for the game on Monday night (as they always seem to for National Title games). The coaching battle between Beilein and Pitino will be exquisite. The backcourt matchup is sure to entertain, with two of the nation’s top point guards (Peyton Siva and Trey Burke) going toe-to-toe. And then there is Kevin Ware, who’s gruesome injury in the elite eight has much of the coutry rooting for Louisville to win a championship for their injured sophomore guard.
I think that this is, in many regards, another offense-defense matchup similar to last night’s between Cuse and Michigan. But let’s be clear: Michigan is a great defensive team and Louisville is a terrific offensive team, even if their strengths lie at the other end of the court. Michigan has held all but one opponent (Kansas) to under 60 points in five games thus far in the NCAA Tourney. Louisville, on the other hand, has scored at least 70 in every NCAA game (and 77 or more in all but the Wichita State game).
But, above all, Louisville is a special defensive team that makes a living off of turning opponents over and forcing them into bad shots. Michigan, meanwhile, is an incredible offensive team. They have a do-it-all point guard in Trey Burke who puts up huge points and assists numbers in nearly every game. They also have an NBA-level scoring wing in Tim Hardaway Jr. who has tremendous range out to well beyond the three point line. Finally, the key to Michigan (both offensively and defensively) is post-presence Mitch McGary, who has been a dynamite at both ends of the court during the tourney.
This game has all the makings of a classic. I can’t wait!