The 2013 NCAA Tournament has whittled 68 teams down to two. The final throwdown at the Final Four in Atlanta pits a potent Michigan offense against a formidable Louisville defense. The college basketball odds makers list the Cardinals as a four-point favorite.
The Wolverines can win because…
They are winning without their best stuff from their best player. Trey Burke has won a number of player of the year awards in recent weeks, including the Associated Press honor at the Final Four. Yet, for all the ways in which he powers this Michigan team, the superstar point guard has not performed particularly well in the NCAA tournament. He did hit the long three-pointer against Kansas in the South Regional semifinals, keeping the Wolverines alive. That was a major contribution to his team, and he has also managed to find open shooters when his own shots are not falling. Nevertheless, Burke’s shooting and scoring have not been up to par over the past few weeks. His teammates are continuously rescuing him. This is, on one hand, a source of worry for Michigan, but then again, it’s great news for the Wolverines. This team could not have won many games in the Big Ten when Burke didn’t play well. Now, Michigan has grown up, especially because big man Mitch McGary has ripened into a complete player. McGary has been the Wolverines’ best player over the past three weeks, dominating not just at both ends of the floor, but in four distinct facets of play: scoring, rebounding, passing, and running the floor to fuel Michigan’s fast break. McGary is leaving a substantial positive imprint on just about every part of each game Michigan plays. When this version of McGary is in action and role players such as Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht make major contributions (as they did on Saturday in Michigan’s semifinal win over Syracuse), the Wolverines are very hard to beat.
The Cardinals can win because…
They’re also arriving in this championship game due to contributions from role players, a reality which shows that they can beat Michigan at its own game. If Michigan can win without its best brand of ball from Trey Burke, Louisville can say much the same thing after its semifinal win over Wichita State on Saturday. The Cardinals’ three best players – Russ Smith, Peyton Siva, and Gorgui Dieng – all suffered through markedly deficient performances. Smith found a few stretches in which he scored well, and Siva enjoyed a brief burst of productivity late in the second half, but they both struggled for the vast majority of Saturday’s game. Dieng was a total no-show at the offensive end of the floor. He made a few defensive plays, but far fewer than he and his coaching staff expected. Yet, through it all, Louisville survived because of excellent performances by several role players: Luke Hancock carried the scoring load; Tim Henderson hit two momentum-changing threes to spearhead a second-half comeback from a 12-point deficit; Chane Behanan provided low-post scoring for a team that found it hard to get points in the paint; Stephan Van Treese made hustle plays at both ends to shift the psychological balance against Wichita State.
Louisville is just as resourceful as Michigan. If Dieng and Siva can play well in this game against a Michigan team whose interior defense is not as strong as Wichita State’s, the Cardinals will be in good shape.
Outlook & Prediction:
Louisville might win outright, but Michigan is too confident right now to get wiped off the court. The Wolverines are going to have a chance to win this game. At the very least, they will cover the number on the betting lines and make Louisville sweat until the very last second of this contest.
Pick: Michigan +4