By: Dan Leach
Follow Dan Leach on Twitter @DTMLEACH
Atlanta (97.1 The Ticket)–This is what it is all about. The hundreds of practices, the endless shooting drills, all the blood, sweat, and tears of a process that starts for each of the 347 teams with a chance to cut down the nets. The day has come where there will be a champion crowned, fulfilling the dreams of young men that started when they were back on the playground or in their backyard, dreaming of winning it all.
It does not always happen, but the two best teams in the country are both one win away from a national championship. Louisville has been spectacular all season long and played their best basketball when it mattered most, during the heart of the Big East season. The Cards come in winners of 18 of their last 19 games, and until the struggle against the Shockers, simply rocked their way through the tournament.
The Michigan Wolverines were dominant as well aside from the Sweet Sixteen game against the Jayhawks, in which Trey Burke helped lead a comeback for the ages. The bottom line is both teams playing for the title are about as talented as any team that has made it this far in recent memory. Both teams can make a case for having the best backcourt in the country, The Cards with Russ Smith and Peyton Siva who have experience and amazing leadership qualities. Michigan with who many feel is the drop dead best player in the country in Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr whose energy and confidence can break an opponents will.
Each squad has a big man who can change the game and in Michigan’s case with Mitch McGary, can change a season. There are role players everywhere and they have come up big all tournament long and both coaches are two of the best the college game has to offer. Rick Pitino has taken Louisville to three Final Fours in the past eight years and won a title while at Kentucky in 1996. John Beilein may be coaching in his first National Title game, but has been successful everywhere he has coached during his over 37 year career.
This game is going to come down to which team is able to handle the best of what the other has to offer. For Louisville to win they will need to slow down the inside play on both ends of the floor from Mitch McGary, who has become the Wolverines emotional leader and the team seems to thrive off of it. They also will have to contain trey Burke, who never has two bad games in a row.
For Michigan they will have to slow down the amazingly fast and elusive guard tandem of Smith and Siva, who can run Louisville’s high tempo offense with amazing efficiency. They will also have to keep Dieng from dominated the post and bother the Michigan shooters when they drive the lane.
There of course is always an x-factor and for Louisville it was Luke Hancock in the Semi’s as he almost single handedly helped them comeback against an unbelievably gritty Shockers team. For Michigan it was the powerful minuets of freshman Spike Albrecht and Caris Levert, who I truly feel without their 12 early points , with one of the best shooters in the country Nik Stauskas struggling, Michigan would not have beaten Syracuse. Glenn Robinson III is an x-factor as his pure athleticism can shake an opponent’s confidence.
This is going to be a game run at a frantic pace. Michigan just had to contend with the Syracuse zone which until Michigan had simply shut teams down. Now they will have to deal with some of the best pressure defense played in the country. Louisville hasn’t seen a team this year, even in the tough Big East, that when on, can shoot as well as Michigan.
I think this game will be played back and forth all night with both teams having moments where they will feel they are pulling away, only to see the other squad get right back in it. Look for huge games out of Burke and Hardaway Jr for Michigan and Smith Siva for the Cards as I would not be surprised if the majority of the scoring for Louisville came from the backcourt.
Where I see the difference in this game is the truly balanced scoring of Michigan and simply stated, “The Monster”. Mitch McGary is the biggest reason why Michigan is in this position. Trey Burke is the best player on the team and the country, but McGary, since he was inserted into the starting lineup, has been the reason that the Wolverines have been able to be as dominant as they have been.
In the end Michigan will just be too much for Louisville. Burke will have a huge game and will look unstoppable at times like he has most of the season. McGary will be a presence in the post on both ends of the floor, and Nik Stauskas will get back to the hot shooting that has defined him at his best this year. Michigan will get these huge moments from players like Albrecht, Levert, and Morgan, who almost has become forgotten with the emergence of McGary, but has always been a very important member of the Wolverines.
Many say Michigan might just be a team of destiny, I say they have made their own destiny, by never giving up, even when things were at the darkest. Talking to the players in the locker room after the victory over Syracuse, you could see the confidence spilling over from them all, even the ones that struggled in the biggest game of the season. They have bought into John Beilein’s most ardent principles, family and unity. They will walk off the court a unified family for life, as well as National Champions.
DAN LEACH PREDICTION-MICHIGAN 74 LOUISVILLE 69
MOST OUTSTANDING PLAYER OF FINAL FOUR-MITCH MCGARY