The NCAA National Championship Game is always more than just a game because there are always other things going on.
The Louisville Cardinals and Michigan Wolverines both have their own stories coming into their showdown on Monday night. They took very different paths to get to this point, but they made it here nonetheless.
Here are some of the biggest storylines heading into the matchup.
Cardinals Playing for Kevin Ware
The entire country was in shock after the injury to Kevin Ware during the Elite Eight matchup between Louisville and Duke. It seemed like it would be impossible for the Cardinals to continue playing after the horrific scene that unfolded before their eyes.
However, the Cardinals have kept fighting, beating the Blue Devils and then Wichita State in Atlanta. Even after being down by double-digits, they were able to pull out a win in the Final Four and advance to the national championship game.
The Cardinals are playing with a lot of emotion right now, and that’s understandable. However, they need to keep that emotion in check in their final game. If they don’t keep it in check, they could end up playing sloppy against the Wolverines, and that’s a problem.
The Emergence of Mitch McGary
Even with the struggles of Trey Burke and Nik Stauskas, the Wolverines have been able to keep pushing and advancing through the tournament. The main reason for that is Mitch McGary, the freshman forward from Chesterton, Ind..
The regular season wasn’t too flashy for McGary. He averaged only 7.5 points and 6.3 rebounds, although he did shoot over 60 percent. Once the tournament got started, he’s become an absolute monster, averaging 16 points, 11.6 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 2.2 steals. He has been dominant on both offense and defense and has been a true impact player for Michigan.
The Wolverines will need McGary to continue staying hot coming into the final game of the tourney. If someone like Burke starts struggling again, McGary will have to step up like he has been doing the entire tournament.
The Battle of the Backcourts
These teams feature two of the best backcourts in the country with several very talented pro prospects.
The Wolverines have Burke, Stauskas and Tim Hardaway Jr. in their backcourt and the three lead Michigan in scoring, combining for 44.3 points, 10.8 rebounds, 10.5 assists and 2.9 steals per game. It is critical for those three players to get going in a game like this that features so much talent at the guard position.
On the other side, the Cardinals feature Russ Smith and Peyton Siva. The two have combined for 28.7 points, 8.6 assists and 4.3 steals and are the main reasons that the Cardinals do such a great job of forcing turnovers. Their defensive skills will be put to the test against the Wolverines.
This is clearly the matchup to watch on Monday night. With so many stars in the backcourt, it’s set to be quite an exciting game in Atlanta.