Louisville vs. Michigan: Previewing Monday’s Showdown
On Monday, Rick Pitino’s havoc-creating defense matches up against John Beilein’s low-turnover, efficient offense. Who’s coming away victorious? Let’s take a look at the game’s key elements first….
Trey Burke vs. Russ Smith
Burke and Smith are the top scorers on the two teams. Although they won’t be guarding each other, both teams need their leading scorers to have a big night Monday in order to take the crown.
Smith has been a scoring machine so far this tournament, with a minimum of 21 points in each of Louisville’s five tournament games. He struggled a bit from the field (6-17) and from the line (5-12) against Wichita State, but still posted 21 points, nearly a third of his team’s 72 on the night.
Burke has had a rollercoaster of a tournament from a scoring standpoint, with the Kansas game serving the perfect example of his dualities on the offensive end. He went scoreless in the first half against Kansas, only to score 23 points in the second half and overtime, including the deep three that shook up the entire South Regional. Burke scored double-digits in all of Michigan’s regular season and Big Ten Tournament games this year, averaging 18.5 on the season, but in the NCAA Tournament so far, Burke has scored in single digits twice, including a 1-8 performance against Syracuse on Saturday. Of course he brings a lot more to the table than just scoring, by spreading the ball around on offense and terrorizing opposing point guards on defense (ask Carter-Williams about that one), but the Wolverines will need his scoring punch to keep pace with a Louisville team that’s scored at least 72 points in all five of their tournament games.
Mitch McGary vs. Gorgui Dieng
McGary has been a double-double machine so far this tournament. If it weren’t for Burke’s heroics against Kansas, McGary would probably be the frontrunner for Tournament MVP if the Wolverines were to win on Monday. He’s hit 37 of his 53 field goals in the Tournament and is averaging 11.6 rebounds per game. Plus his hustle on the defensive end has been huge for the Wolverines.
Dieng is a defensive gamechanger. Just ask Michigan State who fell to Louisville in the NCAA Tournament last year behind Dieng’s 7 blocked shots. He’s also a top-notch rebounder, who averaged 9.4 a game this season for the Cardinals.
Overall, it’s going to be a battle on the boards and down on the block.
Tim Hardaway Jr. vs. Peyton Siva
Again, like Smith and Burke, these two won’t be guarding each other, but they are the next most important guards on their respective teams.
Siva has struggled from the field so far this tournament, shooting under 40% in three of Louisville’s five games. But his defensive hustle and his ability to get into the lane make him one of Louisville’s most valuable players.
Hardaway Jr. has also struggled from the field, but has hit some huge shots for the Wolverines. With 13 threes in 5 games, Hardaway Jr. will demand a lot of attention from the Louisville defense, probably guarded mostly by Chane Behanan and Luke Hancock.
Glenn Robinson III vs. Luke Hancock
GRIII has had an extremely efficient tournament, shooting 28 for 44 from the field. He’s also been outstanding on the boards, with 5 offensive rebounds against both Kansas and Syracuse. Plus his length on the defensive end can really frustrate opponents.
Hancock has had a solid tournament, especially since the Kevin Ware injury. He was quite possibly Louisville’s MVP against Wichita State, scoring 20 points on 6 for 9 shooting with 3 triples. Along with Siva and Smith, Hancock is another guy that can get into the heart of a defense, so the Wolverines will need to keep him at bay.
The Other Guys
No team is getting to the NCAA Tournament Championship game without a little help from bench players and key role players. Ware was a huge role player for the Cardinals to lose, but they’ve received some big minutes from Freshman Montrezl Harrell, while starting Forwards Behanan and Wayne Blackshear have provided the backbone to the Louisville press when on the court. But it was Junior Tim Henderson that came through with a few key shots against Wichita State, two three pointers that helped propel the Cardinals down the stretch.
Michigan’s biggest X-Factor without a doubt is Freshman Nik Stauskas. When he’s getting open and hitting his shots, the Wolverines offense gains a whole new level. He shot 0-4 from beyond the arc against Syracuse and 6-6 from three against Florida. Which Stauskas shows up against Louisville could go a long way in determining the game’s outcome. But outside Stauskas, the Wolverines have two key big men off their bench with Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford, as well as a high-energy backup point guard in Spike Albrecht and a solid winger in Caris LeVert, both of which really came through for the team against Syracuse.
Bottom Line Prediction
Two tremendous coaches, two balanced teams, and only one trophy.
If Michigan can hold Smith under 20 and force someone else to score consistently in a half-court set, they’d be in pretty good shape. But no team in the tournament has been able to do that yet.
If Louisville can keep Michigan uncomfortable on the perimeter like Syracuse did (Michigan was held to 61 points Saturday), then the Wolverines will have trouble keeping pace with the Cardinals on the scoreboard.
Louisville’s press has been their bread and butter since Pitino took over, but the press hasn’t been much of an obstacle for the Wolverines this year. Granted the Cardinals run a more deadly press than VCU, but with ball handlers like Burke and Albrecht, and smart guards like Hardaway and Stauskas, turnovers are a rarity for the Wolverines. Keeping that in mind, Louisville is going to need those 20+ points from Smith in the halfcourt set, along with big games from Siva and Hancock. And with how well Cleanthony Early played against Dieng on Saturday, Louisville will need their big man to step up his defense against McGary, or the hard-working Freshman will give Coach Pitino headaches all night.
The outcome is going to depend on a lot of elements: who has the hot hand from beyond the arc, which team can move the ball better in the halfcourt set, which team can stay out of foul trouble. But all in all, McGary’s inside scoring and Burke’s tenacity in the clutch give the Wolverines a small edge in my eyes. The Cardinals have only had one game decided by 5 or less points in the past month (Saturday vs. Wichita State), while the Wolverines had just about every late season Big Ten game come down to the wire, and needed to overcome a seemingly insurmountable late-game deficit in the Sweet 16 to move on.
Final Prediction: Michigan 78, Louisville 70