Michigan enters this contest after holding off the Syracuse Orange in the national semifinals 61-56. The Wolverines overcame some second half shooting woes and a bunch of missed free thitems late that nearly let the game slip away. The difference in the contest was the continued strong play of freshman Mitch McGary who was able to operate at the foul line and facilitate open shots from there against the cuse zone. The big man finished with 10 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists on the night but missed 3 big free thitems late in the game – something he has to avoid in the final. The Wolverines got 23 combined points from Tim Hardaway Jr and Glenn Robinson III and a solid 8 points off the bench from Levert. National player of the year Trey Burke struggled mightily in this one, scoring just 7 points on 1-8 shooting. The All-American point guard will have to bounce back strong against the talented Louisville backcourt if the Wolverines hope to cut down the nets.
The Louisville Cardinals advanced to Monday’s final after coming from behind for the win over the Wichita State Shockers 72-68. The Cardinals were behind by a small margin the entire first half and fell behind by as many as 12 points in the second half before turning up their full court defense and rallying back to take the lead. The Cardinals were once again led in scoring by Russ Smith’s 21 points but Smith struggled shooting most of the night finishing 6-17 from the floor and 4-11 from the line – a surprising stat for an 82% free thitem shooter. Louisville forward Luke Hancock was arguably the player of the game in this one – the transfer finished with 20 points that included clutch threes and slashing lay ins to keep the Cardinals ahead late and a forced jump ball that pretty much iced the game. Louisville committed 23 fouls on the night and they will need to play smarter defense in the final as the Wolverines are a solid free thitem shooting team outside of McGary.
Some trends to consider – Michigan is 16-5 against the spread in their last 21 neutral site games and Louisville is 10-2 against the spread in their last 12 overall but only 1-6 against the spread in their last 7 versus the Big Ten.
This game has all the makings of a very entertaining final. Both these teams can get up and down the court and feature lead guards that can both facilitate and score the ball. The key will be Michigan’s ability to keep McGary out of foul trouble and how the freshman big man fares against Louisville’s lengthy bigs. I like Trey Burke to bounce back strong but the depth and full court pressure of the Cardinals to once again be too much for their opponent for 40 minutes as Louisville squeaks out the cover and cuts down the nets for their third national title in school history.