This is it, folks. The game Michigan fans aspired to be in all season is finally upon us. Monday evening will see the Wolverines taking on the top seeded Louisville Cardinals, led by coach Rick Pitino.
Both teams have found themselves on what appear to be paths of destiny on their way to this National Championship game. Michigan has had many bounces go their way and have been led by Player of the Year Trey Burke. Louisville was the hottest team in the nation going into the tournament and have kept that momentum going throughout this run, which seemed to get even bigger after Kevin Ware’s gruesome leg injury.
Louisville is probably the best team that Michigan has seen this season. They are very versatile and as athletic as any team in the country. Offensively, they are led by the guard duo of Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, who has been one of the best players in this tournament. The defense has to limit the damage of these two because they have the ability to break this game wide open on their own. The athleticism of Glenn Robinson III, Tim Hardaway, Jr, and Trey Burke will have to step up on that end of the floor.
Speaking of the defensive end of the floor, Louisville is another team that the Wolverines will run into that will absolutely give them fits. In watching the film, the Cardinals run a similar full court press as VCU did. The difference is that these guys are far more athletic and better players. As I mentioned in the preview for the VCU game, this defense gets broken down by quick passes and several of them. The Wolverines handled that perfectly and it will be interesting to see how they respond to it during this game.
Turnovers are another huge key in the game. Louisville forced 718 turnovers this season, which was the most in the nation. In comparison, Michigan only turned the ball over 356 times on the year. Trey Burke has to continue to be efficient with the ball and make good decisions, even if that means sacrificing his offense.
Freshman center Mitch McGary has been one of the biggest stories of the tournament this far with his breakout performances. He again is the biggest key in the game. How he battles against Gorgui Dieng will determine the outcome. Dieng is 6’11” and his a huge post presence. McGary has shown us what he is capable of throughout the tourney and will not back down from any challenge. If McGary was able to put up monster numbers against Jeff Withey from Kansas, he will be fine against Dieng.
The Wolverines are looking for their first National Championship since 1989 in the days of Glenn Rice. Trey Burke is as special a player as Rice was in my eyes. He has swept the player of the year awards and his NBA stock has risen the deeper that the Wolverines have advanced in this tournament. I’ve said all along that in this year of wide open competition, Michigan had the most talent and was the most primed to make a deep run.
Give credit to John Beilein and his staff for enduring the tough times during the middle part of the year. There is a ton of young talent on this team, and performing as an underclassman can be very difficult. Kudos to them for keeping their heads up and you can really tell the game has slowed down for them.
I’m not going to sit here and say Michigan is a team of destiny and that they will beat Louisville easily tomorrow because I don’t think that’s the case. Do I think they can win? Absolutely. They have to show up and play their best basketball because this is the best team they have seen all year.
No prediction from me this time around. I’m going to just enjoy the game and you guys should too. This could be the the last time you see Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr, and possibly GR3 in a Wolverine uniform. Crisler Center gets to hang a Final Four banner next season. Most of all, this program has earned the respect of the nation and by all accounts, is back to its glory days.
Tomorrow’s game tips at 9:21pm in Atlanta on CBS.