The Louisville Cardinals are so close to cutting down the nets that you can hear "One Shining Moment" faintly playing in the background as you read this.
After surviving a scare in the Final Four against the upstart Wichita State Shockers, only Michigan stands between the Cardinals and college basketball immortality. The only problem is that the Wolverines are the most dangerous team the Cardinals will have played in the tournament.
Sure, the Duke Blue Devils put together a better season than Big Blue, but this is the NCAA tournament. Momentum rules the day. Wichita State gave the Cardinals the most difficult test in their championship run, and Michigan has blazed its own impressive path to the championship game.
Beating Michigan won't be easy. It's a balanced team that can rely on any number of players, including Trey Burke and the tournament's breakout star, Mitch McGary.
That being said, the Cardinals came into the tournament as the overall top seed and have done nothing to have that taken away from them. As long as they nail the following three keys, this team will make its mark on history as national champions.
Pressure, Pressure, Pressure
Louisville's pressure defense has been great all season. When it comes to pressuring Michigan, efficiency will be key.
The Wolverines are one of the best teams at taking care of the ball. Trey Burke is not only an exceptional scorer—he is also efficient with the ball and isn't apt to turn it over very often. He's only turned the ball over once in each of Michigan's last two games.
Those games were against Syracuse, whose zone attack is far different from Louisville's pressure scheme, and Florida. The Gators aren't nearly as skilled defensively as the Cardinals.
How effective pressure is against Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. will be vital to Louisville's chances.
Gorgui Dieng Must Crash the Boards
The emergence of Mitch McGary down low has been pivotal for Michigan's march to the championship game. After putting up mediocre numbers during the regular season, he's snared double-digit rebounds in three of Michigan's five tournament games.
McGary's rise has been one of the biggest stories of the tournament, but the Cardinals have a dominant big man of their own down low. Gorgui Dieng has to have one of the best games of his career for Louisville to win.
Dieng has 12 blocks in the tournament and is averaging 7.2 rebounds per game in the tournament. The 6'11" 240-pound center has the size and skill set to limit McGary on the glass. He'll have to do just that to give Louisville an edge.
Attack the Basket Early
Things did not look good against Wichita State early on. The Shockers came out firing on all cylinders, while the Cardinals looked completely out of sync.
It took them nearly five minutes to score their first basket against the Shockers. The slow start could be attributed to a lack of aggression on the offensive end of the floor.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, it was one of the few times the Cardinals were outscored in the paint in a half.
Louisville was outscored 10-8 in the paint in the first half, only 2nd half in the tourney in which it was outscored in paint— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 6, 2013
Against a team like Michigan, falling behind early could be a fatal mistake. Russ Smith and company must attack the rim early and establish the offense down low.