Two teams that trace their last NCAA titles to the 1980’s, Louisville (27 years ago) and Michigan (24 years ago) will meet in the first Big Ten vs Big East final since the Wolverines’ last win, as the Cardinals enter the final being the only number one seed left in the competition, and probably the favorites to take the trophy back home with them for third time in school history.
For Michigan, who are only 1-4 in NCAA Tournament finals, it might be quite the interesting story – being the team that made it to number one earlier this season only to completely counted out of title contention after their losses piled up in conference play, including twice to Indiana. Now, finally finding some defense and depth behind Trey Burke, their incredibly tough road to the final might end with a smile on their faces.
The Cardinals have visited two Final Fours since they last won the national title (second win) in 1986, both of them with Rick Pitino. First in 2005, losing to Illinois, and last year, with a big chunk of the players that won them the Big East in 2013 and made them the only number one team to advance from the regionals into the Final Four, losing to Kentucky in the semifinal.
Now, a team on a roll of 15 consecutive wins, including winning the Big East tournament, and going through Wichita State, Duke, Oregon, Colorado State an North Carolina A&T, is heading into the final as favorites, although not with the kind of confidence and momentum they would have liked and you would expect, as the Shockers made life more difficult than anyone thought they’d be able to.
For the Cardinals, it’s also about hoping that their perfect record in the final, winning on their two visits in 1980 and 1986 with head coach Denny Crum, stays intact, while Russ Smith, averaging 25 points per game so far in the tournament, hopes he gets more than just Luke Hancock (20 points against Wichita State) to help him in a game that will probably be very different than the one in the semifinal.
While Louisville have their perfect record in finals to count on, Michigan haven’t been that lucky, finishing as the runner up in the tournament four times, twice coming after winning it for the first and only time in school history in 1989. That 1989 win over Seton Hall was also the last time a Big Ten team players against a Big East team in the final, giving Michigan at least a little bit of history to count on.
But present speaks louder than the actions of the past. Michigan didn’t have the greatest of finishes in the Big Ten, but sometimes things click for no apparent reasons at the perfect time. Michigan have beaten Syracuse, Florida, Kansas, VCU and South Dakota State. While Trey Burke was the leading scorer and obvious star going into the tournament, it seems someone else has taken over in these games, Mitch McGary.
The Freshman out of Indiana is averaging 16 points per game in the tournament so far, including 25 points vs Kansas and 21 vs Florida. Michigan have plenty of scoring talent behind Trey Burke, including Glenn Robinson and Tim Hardaway, but it seems that Mitch McGary still being considered somewhat of an unknown is working more than anything else in their favor.