Unlike last year, there is no clear favorite to win the men’s college basketball national title, although Louisville, fitting of its number one seed and ranking overall should be slightly favored to go home with their third NCAA Tournament championship, while Michigan hope that the evolution they’ve been going through since the beginning of the Big Dance peaks at the most important game of all.
As with every game in the tournament and especially when it comes to the Cardinals and their full court press, turnovers might be the thing that decide the battle. Despite not managing to rattle Wichita State for most of the game, they did cause 7 turnovers in the final 7 minutes to give themselves the right kind of pace and advantage en route to a win. They average 10.8 steals per game, the highest in the nation, and force over 18 turnovers off their opponents.
On the other side of this equation are the Wolverines, with some of the best ball handlers you can find, averaging only 9.4 turnovers per game, also best in the nation. Something has got to give, and if Michigan can avoid letting the press get to them, like they managed to overcome the 2-3 zone defense Syracuse have been so successful with, that’s one less obstacle on the road to the win.
But despite the ability of Mitch McGary during the tournament (averaging 16 points and 11.6 rebounds during the tournament) or Trey Burke being a potential to go off at any given moment, the defense Michigan play might be even more important, being the deciding factor in the win over Syracuse after being held to only 61 points in the contest, unlike their win over Florida, who couldn’t handle the explosiveness.
For the Cardinals, finding a way to give Peyton Siva and Russ Smith (averaging 25 points in the tournament) was going to be a problem after Kevin Ware got injured, but Luke Hancock stepping up gives Rick Pitino a very reliable option to count on, at least on the offensive side of the ball.
The final matchup? Pitino vs Beilein, meeting for the fifth time. Pition is three of four against Beilein, including a Louisville win over West Virginia at the Elite Eight stage in 2005.
Prediction – Michigan are happier about their performance in the semifinal, despite not really getting it going offensively. Trey Burke hasn’t been too special in the tournament, and unless he manages to handle the kind of pressure the Cardinals will bring him, it seems Louisville are destined to win their third national title.