Michigan Basketball: Diverse Tournament Run Has Wolverines Prepared for Final

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistApril 7, 2013

ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 06:  Trey Burke #3 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates the Wolverines 61-56 victory against the Syracuse Orange during the 2013 NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at the Georgia Dome on April 6, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Louisville might be the hottest college basketball team in the country, but Michigan is well-prepared for the upcoming battle.

The Cardinals will easily be the toughest opponent that the Wolverines have faced all season. They have talented players at every position on offense, a suffocating defense that stretches across the whole field and depth to keep the pressure on all game long.

However, each of the Michigan's five NCAA tournament wins has helped set the team up for success in the national championship game. 

In the first game of March Madness, the Wolverines had an easy victory against South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits became a popular upset pick in brackets across the country thanks to the stellar play of point guard Nate Wolters.

While Wolters is not quite as talented as Louisville's Russ Smith, the defense showed that it can completely shut down a dominant scorer, as the guard was only able to total 10 points (well below his season average of 22.3 points per game) on 3-of-14 shooting.

Additionally, Michigan showed that it was able to get an easy win even when Trey Burke has an off day. The All-American only had six points in that game.

However, a much more telling victory occurred in the next round against Virginia Commonwealth. The Rams had a vicious full-court press that forced a NCAA-best 19.7 turnovers per game. Louisville ranked second in that category with 18.4 per game. 

This did not seem to affect Michigan, which attacked the press aggressively and got easy baskets on the other end. The Wolverines totaled only 12 turnovers and made 51.7 percent of their shots.

In the next game, they had to face yet another great defense, although Kansas plays a different style. The Jayhawks use a tough man defense to prevent open shots, and then shot-blocker Jeff Withey patrols the interior. This helped the Jayhawks lead the nation in opponent field-goal percentage.

The Cardinals use a similar system in the half-court, with Gorgui Dieng taking the role of shot-blocker. Of course, Withey is much more accomplished in his career and has a little more height.

Still, Michigan was able to get into the lane and score 87 points against this tough team in an overtime win.

It also was a great example of the team's resiliency by coming back after being down eight points with just over a minute remaining. The Cardinals should not be comfortable until there is no time remaining on the clock.

In the Elite Eight, Florida was intimidating due to its overall efficiency. KenPom rated the Gators as one of the top teams in the nation due to their ability to make the most of each possession on both sides of the ball.

This is also what makes Louisville so dangerous, as it rarely gives up the ball and forces opponents into bad plays.

However, Michigan absolutely destroyed Florida with great shooting and solid defense to advance to the Final Four with a 20-point win.

The win over Syracuse in the national semifinals showed the Wolverines' ability to survive against a unique defense, in this case a 2-3 zone. It was not always pretty, but they got enough points to win against an unfamiliar opponent.

Rick Pitino is also known for his willingness to change up defenses, but Trey Burke and company have proven that they have what it takes to score against any matchup.

Although Louisville has also seen plenty of variety on its trip to the finals, the squad has not seen a backcourt as talented as Michigan's. The Wolverines have what it takes to shock their opponent and pull off the upset over the No. 1 overall seed. 

We have seen what this team is capable of achieving. If it lives up to expectations, it will be crowned the 2013 national champions.


Note: Stats courtesy of teamrankings.com unless otherwise noted.

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