Michigan and Louisville are one game away from March Madness immortality, because running through the NCAA bracket warrants the utmost recognition in college basketball.
The Wolverines are led by star player Trey Burke, who elevated Michigan's confidence to an unfathomable level with his long-range jumper versus Kansas. Since then, the Wolverines have been on a tear and pushed through two incredibly tough defenses in Florida and Syracuse.
That said, the suffocating defense of coach Rick Pitino is a different monster.
Louisville shut down two explosive offenses in Oregon and Duke while edging past the defensively tough Wichita State Shockers. Featuring an offense capable of putting up 80-plus, the Cardinals are an intriguing counter to Michigan's philosophy.
So, let's break each side down.
Michigan Offense vs. Louisville Defense
Louisville must keep its full-court pressure on the most intense of gears versus Michigan. Because the Wolverines were able to knife through the zone of Syracuse, facing Trey Burke and Co. in the half court is to Michigan's advantage.
One thing the press can do for Louisville, however, is minimize Michigan's shot selection on each possession. By the same token, this will increase the Cardinals' odds of wearing the Wolverines down and generating turnovers.
A major issue for Pitino's squad, though, will be actually forcing turnovers.
Michigan only turned it over 10 times against Syracuse and averages just 9.4 per game on the year. In addition, the Wolverines have been knocking down 39.4 percent beyond the arc in the previous three games.
Although the Cardinals allow a mere 39.2 shooting percentage, we've seen Michigan force its way through and over stellar defenses.
Michigan can clearly up the tempo in transition, drive when needed and rely on multiple scorers. Louisville's ability to force ill-advised attempts and win the glass to prevent second-chance opportunities will be this end of the court's main factor.
Louisville Offense vs. Michigan Defense
Obviously the Cardinals are defense-oriented, and the Wolverines feature one exciting offense. So, the overlooked matchup in this game will be when Louisville possesses the rock.
Interestingly enough, Louisville has put up 70-plus points in eight of its previous nine games. On the contrary, Michigan has only allowed above 70 points in one of its last seven games (Kansas).
Despite the dominance of each school in its aforementioned strengths, the Cardinals have an efficient offense and the Wolverines will lock it down defensively. The key here, however, will be Louisville's ability to consistently connect on open looks.
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The Wolverines give up a 42.4 shooting percentage but are quite impressive at winning the boards to restrict additional scoring chances. At the same time, the Cardinals do rank No. 14 in offensive rebounding percentage (37.6).
Therefore, Michigan has to double up on Russ Smith since he's the lone Cardinal who averages above 10 points per game. Taking Smith out of the game will force everyone else to step up, which will put pressure on Pitino's bench squad to respond as it did in the Final Four.
Even though there's good reason for Louisville to have confidence in guys such as Luke Hancock, the Cardinals aren't use to counting on multiple scorers from game to game like the Wolverines.
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