Why They'll Win: Michigan vs. Louisville
|MICHIGAN WOLVERINES||LOUISVILLE CARDINALS|
Michigan is playing good defense, despite the fact that coach John Beilein sounds like he might prefer using a strategy. Known for running a 1-3-1 zone at other stops along his coaching journey, Michigan has now gone man-to-man.
-- Rick Houston, NCAA.com
Louisville was named the top seed in the NCAA tournament on Selection Sunday. Three weeks later, Rick Pitino’s Cardinals have done nothing to show they weren’t worthy.Saturday’s semifinal victory against Wichita State was just the latest example of why Louisville will win its first national championship since 1986.
Take center Gorgui Dieng for example. The 6-foot-11 junior was held scoreless for the first time since Feb. 22, 2011, at Rutgers -- his freshman season. Sure, he’s not known for his offense, but getting zero production from the big man could’ve doomed most teams. Throw in the fact guard Peyton Siva was 1-for-9 and you start to wonder how did the Cards advance?Luckily for Pitino, he has a bench. A very good bench.
The Cardinals proved Saturday night that even without the injured Kevin Ware coming off that bench, they are dangerous. Luke Hancock scored 20 points and supplied dagger after dagger to the Shockers' hopes of, well, a shocker.
Speaking of shockers, reserve guard Tim Henderson was more than a pleasant surprise stepping into the rotation for the injured Ware. Henderson scored six points on two 3-pointers which sparked Louisville’s comeback when it trailed by 12 in the second half. Henderson hadn’t scored six points total since mid-December.
"The players said they weren't surprised about him making those back-to-back 3s," Pitino said. "They're being very kind. I was shocked. Not shocked that he made them, just that he had the gumption to take them, then take it again.”Siva and Dieng won’t go a combined 1-for-10 from the field again on Monday, and the one guy who shined from Pitino’s starting five Saturday was Russ Smith. He’s living up to his nickname during this postseason run. Smith has scored 20 or more points in all five of Louisville’s NCAA tournament games, including 21 on Saturday. That’s just Russdiculous.
Russdiculous is part of a Louisville backcourt which can lock any team down on defense, being ranked the No. 2 in the nation in steals in addition to turnover margin. In a game that will feature some of the best guards in the country in Siva, Smith and Michigan’s Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., that will be key.In the end, it’s more than stats. There’s an X-factor with this team.
The Cards could’ve folded when they trailed by 16 in the second half against Syracuse in the Big East Championship Game. Instead, Louisville outscored the Orange 56-26 in the second half to claim the conference title.
Louisville could’ve folded when Ware’s leg broke in Indianapolis against Duke a week ago. After Ware was wheeled off, the Cards could’ve packed it in. Who would’ve blamed them after what they had just witnessed? Instead, Louisville blew away the Blue Devils en route to Atlanta.
No matter what the deficit, no matter what awful situation Pitino’s team has seen this year, his Cards have come through. And they will again on Monday night at the Georgia Dome.
-- Douglas Kroll, NCAA.com