High expectations often lead to disappointment. Michigan and Louisville set the bar high in the Final Four, but we shouldn’t expect to be disappointed on Monday night.
Despite a poor performance for most of the game against Wichita State, the No. 1 Cardinals have displayed their talent, depth and balance throughout the tournament. There isn’t a team in the country that matches up well with them.
Still, Michigan is in the national title game for a reason. The No. 4 Wolverines have been outstanding throughout the tournament, relying on multiple scorers to lighten the burden on Trey Burke. Mitch McGary has proved to be the dominant inside presence needed to open things up for Michigan’s trio of outstanding scorers.
There are many creases in this matchup, but it all comes down to numbers. Statistics don’t tell the whole story, but they paint a picture we can use to better understand what to expect when Michigan and Louisville square off Monday night.
Let’s take a look at some of those numbers and analyze what they mean will in the national championship game.
Tournament Scoring Differential
No team can survive the NCAA tournament without the ability to match its opponent at the offensive end. Defense is important, but teams that can’t score don’t make it very far.
Both Michigan and Louisville have had measurable success at the offensive end in the Big Dance. Just 3.8 points separates their average scoring margin in the last five games.
Michigan has gotten balanced scoring efforts from several players, including Trey Burke, Mitch McGary and Tim Hardaway Jr. With a 75.2 points-per-game average, the Wolverines have the firepower to hang with a strong Louisville offense and stout interior defense.
The Cardinals have gotten most of their scoring from junior guard Russ Smith, despite poor shooting at times in the tournament. Smith is averaging 25 points per game, well on his way to a tournament most outstanding player award, should the Cardinals win the title.
Number of Points by which Louisville is Favored
Despite nearly tripping up against No. 9 Wichita State in the Final Four, Louisville is still a four-point favorite over Michigan in this game. Smart money is on Michigan at least covering the spread.
The Wolverines proved in the Final Four that they can score against even the most dominant of defenses. They won’t see the same defensive schemes they saw against Syracuse, but Louisville’s defense is just as strong, especially in the full court.
The Cardinals love to apply full-court pressure in an attempt to force turnovers and get their guards out and running. As Wichita State showed on Saturday, Louisville struggles to keep opponents off the board when its full-court press doesn’t generate turnovers.
Michigan is fully equipped to break Louisville’s press and play an efficient game in the half court. Rick Pitino and John Beilein are two of the best coaches in college basketball, and they’ll be making plenty of in-game adjustments in an effort to stay ahead of the competition.
Look for Michigan to thrive against Louisville’s pressure and keep this game close down to the wire.
Trey Burke’s Three-Point Percentage in Tournament
The NCAA tournament is a different beast than the regular season. Burke pieced together a masterful season leading up to the tournament, but he hasn’t been the dominant guard in the last five games that we’ve come to expect.
One of Burke’s best assets is his ability to create separation and knock down perimeter shots. He hasn’t been able to do that against the nation’s top defenses, and his three-point percentage has suffered as a result.
The sophomore has made just 25.8 percent of his treys in the tournament—well below his 37.8 percent season mark. If the Wooden Award winner is to carry his team to a national title Monday night, he’ll have to find the stroke that proved deadly during the regular season.
Russ Smith’s Shooting Percentage against Wichita State
Smith didn’t look like himself on Saturday. Louisville’s best offensive player shot just 6-of-17 from the field in that game and was only 5-of-12 from the charity stripe.
The junior guard shot at least 50 percent from the floor in each of the team’s first four games of the tournament, and he needs to get back in form is Louisville is to take down its first national title since 1986.
Smith has to be selective with the ball in his hands, especially against a Michigan team that doesn’t turn the ball over much and has rebounded tremendously well in the last few games. Second chances won’t come around often, and Smith has to play much smarter basketball.
Basketball is a simple game. Offense, defense and rebounding win championships. Putting it all together is easier said than done, though, and Louisville’s chances of beating Michigan hinge on getting the most out of its best players at the right time. Smith must lead the charge.
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