The 2013 NCAA tournament's top-seeded Louisville Cardinals will meet the No. 4-seeded Michigan Wolverines in the national championship. Considering the star power, contrast of styles and strong coaching that will be on display, this should be an absolute barnburner.
Michigan emerged from the national semifinal by overcoming the Syracuse Orange's suffocating 2-3 zone to build an early lead it wouldn't relinquish, ultimately pulling out a 61-56 victory.
The Cardinals had difficulties of their own in getting past No. 9 seed Wichita State, but the Shockers couldn't quite pull off another stunner. Rick Pitino's squad overcame a 12-point deficit with 13 minutes to play, pulling out a 72-68 win.
Here is a breakdown of the latest information on the big game, including a preview and predictions of how the battle in Atlanta will play out on Monday evening.
When: Monday, April 8, at 9:23 p.m. ET
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
Spread: Louisville (-3.5), via Vegas Insider
Key matchup: Trey Burke vs. Peyton Siva
The point guards typically run a smooth offense in the halfcourt and are dangerous in transition, but they combined to sink just 2-of-17 shots from the field in the national semifinal.
Burke has arguably been the best player in college basketball all season and a surefire NBA draft lottery pick, so ending his career on such a sour note would have been devastating. Thankfully, on the one occasion he wasn't able to carry the Wolverines, his teammates stepped up to let him fight another day.
As for the Cardinals' catalyst, Siva never got into a rhythm. The Shockers' size on the wing once again proved to be difficult for their smaller opponents to handle.
Siva is a strong on-ball defender and a seasoned leader, and he will give Burke all he can handle in that regard.
The difference here is Burke's explosive scoring ability, and it would be shocking to see him fare as poorly as he did in facing the Orange. Look for a bounce-back game from him in what will be his final college contest.
Player to watch for Michigan: Mitch McGary, F
No player's star is rising as rapidly as that of the talented Wolverines freshman. McGary has erupted with massive performances during Michigan's incredible run and is no longer simply an X-factor—he's a flat-out baller.
Even while having to navigate through the extremely physical Syracuse bigs, McGary was able to flash incredible passing ability, notching a career-high six assists.
Just when it didn't seem possible that McGary could be better, he whipped out an entirely new dimension to his game. Renowned stats guru Ken Pomeroy highlighted just how improbable McGary's facilitating role was:
McGary had 18 assists all season. Looking surprisingly comfortable in the facilitator role.— Ken Pomeroy (@kenpomeroy) April 7, 2013
McGary's career high in assists was 2.— Ken Pomeroy (@kenpomeroy) April 7, 2013
McGary's outlet passes are marvelous to watch, and as long as he can crash the glass effectively, the Wolverines should be able to establish a quickened pace. That won't bode well for the more methodical Cardinals.
Big East Defensive Player of the Year Gorgui Dieng will be an intimidating presence to deal with in the paint, but McGary has torched the other tough competition he has faced thus far. There's little reason to think he can't do it again.
Player to watch for Louisville: Luke Hancock, G-F
Russ Smith may be the Cardinals' typical go-to guy on the offensive end, but Hancock played the hero role on Saturday against the Shockers.
The versatile junior swingman came off the bench to pour in 20 points—including three buckets from beyond the arc. His ability to spread the floor and hit shots from the perimeter efficiently was something Wichita State hadn't seen all tournament long and ultimately proved to be the difference.
This type of impressive performance wasn't even expected from Hancock on a consistent basis at the high school level, as CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman alluded to:
Luke Hancock, who averaged under 14 ppg in HS, had 20 today on just 9 shots. #greatdayforbestgameever— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) April 7, 2013
Most of the Wolverines' attention on defense will be paid to the dynamic backcourt of Smith and Siva, and their ability to penetrate the lane against Michigan's smaller lineup should open up looks for Hancock on the outside.
It's highly unlikely that Hancock produces to the extent he did in the Shockers game, but this is March Madness, isn't it?
Prediction: Michigan 70, Louisville 65
None of the stout defensive squads the Wolverines have faced during the NCAA tournament have been able to completely faze their versatile, extremely athletic lineup.
It's hard to fathom a more arduous road to college basketball's ultimate stage than John Beilein's bunch faced. Between VCU, Kansas, Florida and then Syracuse, Michigan's relatively young team didn't flinch.
Who is the biggest X-factor in the national championship?
Louisville changes defenses as seamlessly as any team in the country. Pitino will deploy the full-court press out of nowhere and force turnovers. Sometimes, the Cardinals will play man-to-man for long periods then switch to zone on a dime and throw off the rhythm of the opponents' halfcourt offense.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, this Michigan offense is too powerful to combat without a dependable No. 1 scorer outside of Smith.
Tim Hardaway Jr. will finally put together a better game than he has recently for Michigan thanks to his advantage over either Wayne Blackshear or Hancock on the offensive end. That will be the difference that will allow the Wolverines to emerge with their second national title.
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