Louisville Basketball: Bench Play Will Be Deciding Factor in Championship Game
Most college basketball fans can name Louisville's star players, but the performance of its bench will make the difference in the national championship game against Michigan.
The Cardinals' depth has been outstanding all season. Luke Hancock, Kevin Ware, Montrezl Harrell and Stephen Van Treese each brought something different to the table and they all helped bring the squad to this point.
Even after Louisville lost Ware to a severe leg injury, Tim Henderson showed that he is ready to contribute as well.
There are few better examples of how important the bench is to Louisville's success than the national semifinal against Wichita State. The group totaled 34 of the team's 72 points, 20 of which came from Hancock.
When the starters struggled to make shots from outside (4-of-17 in the game), the backups came through by making 4-of-5 from behind the arc.
However, this second unit provides more than just scoring. Harrell and Van Treese provide good interior defense and athleticism that few opponents possess.
Additionally, extra bodies are always needed due to Louisville's defensive style. The full-court press wears down teams, and Rick Pitino's ability to keep everyone fresh allows the team to end the game strong.
This will be even more important against Michigan. The Wolverines have a number of great ball-handlers, and they could be a big-time threat to the Cardinals' defense. They already torched VCU's tough press in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
As a result, the starters will have to work even harder to stick with the quick guards, which means that the reserves will be on the floor sooner than usual. Do not be surprised if each of the four main bench players gets at least 10 minutes of playing time.
With that in mind, it will be important to produce positive results. If the team needs outside shooting, Hancock better make his shots. When the forwards come in, they better box out and get boards over Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III.
If these players do not come through, it will put more pressure on the stars like Russ Smith and Peyton Siva. As good as these veterans are, they often struggle when trying to put the team on their back and start forcing bad shots.
However, the bench playing up to expectations will allow everyone to stay in their normal roles. Siva will remain a solid distributor, and Smith will take what is given to him.
In addition, the press will do its job and wear down a Michigan team that usually keeps its starters on the floor for most of the game. By the end, Louisville will have a lot more energy to either come back or pull away.
This will be all the Cardinals need to secure the 2013 national championship.
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