2013 NCAA DI MEN'S BASKEBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
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.

Against Louisville, Michigan will be looking to stop guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith.

“Just stay in front of them and force them to take tough shots,” guard Nik Stauskas said. “I know this from playing with Russ, he is one of the most aggressive guards in the country. He will try to get into the paint and get any look he can take.”

Another factor will be the rise of freshman Mitch McGary, who has shot to prominence during the tournament after starting just six games all season. Against Syracuse in the semifinal game Saturday, McGary paced Michigan in rebounds and assists and tied for second-most in scoring.

“My teammates are beginning to trust me a lot more and my confidence level has skyrocketed,” McGary said. “Them trusting me so much and having confiedence in me on the court, I bring the energy and they feed off that that. Our team is peaking at the right moment and I am just glad to still be playing.

Finally, Michigan is riding a wave of momentum that saw it roll virtually unchallenged through most of the NCAA tournament. It took an 87-85 win against Kansas in OT to make it past the South Regional semifinal, but other than that and a fairly close Final Four semifinal game against Syracuse on Saturday, Michigan has steamrolled its competition.

And don’t even try suggesting to Beilein that Michigan was able to beat Syracuse despite what might have seemed like an off night from star Trey Burke.

“I bristled a little bit when people say that Trey Burke has an off game,” Beilein said. “Trey Burke did so many things behind the scenes in that game that we don’t win without Trey Burke, don’t come close. What you all have to understand, it’s more than just box score, how many points.

“How many good screens did he set? How many times did he pass right to a shooter when we needed it? Stop looking at the final box score and how many points. If you understand all the nuances of the game, it’s a huge difference of whether we win or lose, some of the intangibles that happen in a game that you never see in a stat.”

Roster depth also means a lot, according to Stauskas.

“We have a lot of kids on this team that have sacrificed playing time all year long,” he said. “Games like [Syracuse] where I didn’t shoot the ball well or Trey struggled a little bit, we have guys coming off the bench like Caris [LaVert] and Spike [Albrecht] who hit bit shots for us.”

The bottom line? It’s this: “We’re at our best when this team is firing on all cylinders and we have guys coming off the bench and playing well,” Stauskas concluded.

In just a few hours, we’ll find out just how well Michigan’s cylinders are firing. If things go as well for the squad as they have been, Louisville might be in trouble.

-- 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