By Eric Thomas
The Wolverines can win the championship tonight. How can I be so sure, you may ask? It’s simple: They seem to have momentum on their side. Of course, momentum can be a bit of a misnomer at this point in the tournament, because the only way to arrive here is to be on a winning streak. It’s when you examine the wins themselves that you might be able to reliably forecast the outcome of the final game.
Louisville was expected to sleepwalk through their game on Saturday, Wichita State wasn’t given much of a chance against the last remaining number one seed. Louisville coach Rick Pitino is considered college basketball royalty, so his team is given a great deal of deference at times. Some of us think that the Cardinals are unbeatable because that’s how the NCAA brackets usually work. There are upsets and buzzer beaters but there is usually one team that rules them all in almost casual precision. Last year, it was Kentucky that dismantled teams with sleepy eyed ease. When the Final Four was in Ford Field, UNC destroyed MSU in a way not normally seen outside of when Alabama plays football.
That didn’t happen with the early game of the Final Four. Louisville looked beatable in a game that was supposed to be a night off. While Louisville rallied and eventually won the game, they looked human in the process and they had to dig deep to get the win. They had to exert energy to win instead of resting their starters after a sufficient lead was achieved, like most teams of destiny usually seem to do.
That’s not to say that Michigan’s game against Syracuse was a lay-up either, but the Orange were supposed to win. Reams of ink painted Jim Boeheim’s team as a juggernaut of tenacious D, many thought that the young Wolverines would find themselves on the losing end of the “defense wins championships” law. They didn’t. Just like the Kansas game, and to a lesser degree the games against VCU and Florida, Michigan won against conventional wisdom. They emerged with a Louie Anderson sized chip on their shoulder and the confidence that they can beat anybody.
The Michigan fan base probably already felt the season’s end approach once this March; the team looked dead to rights against Kansas. The team that eventually wins the tournament, without a sure bet, is a team that feels like it’s living on borrowed time. Of the two teams that remain, that team seems to be Michigan. They saved their best games for the very end, with Mitch McGary emerging in a way that probably couldn’t have been imagined even a few weeks ago. A few weeks ago it was a settled fact that if Trey Burke had a bad game Michigan would lose. Trey Burke has had a few games this March where he only scored in single digits, but the Wolverines have still emerged victorious. If Caris LeVert is going to step up, it’s hard to bet against Blue.
Again, both teams have won the same amount of tourney games to get to this point but Louisville almost got shocked by a supposed lesser team. Even though Vegas says the Cardinals are the favorite, Michigan looks like the team of destiny in the championship game tonight.