As sports cliches go, none is older or used more frequently than "offense wins games, defense wins championships." But you'll have to excuse me for buying into the notion here, because it is precisely why I believe Louisville will defeat Michigan and win the national championship Monday night.
In its 15-game winning streak since early February, the most points Louisville has allowed is 69 to Oregon in the Sweet 16. It's hardly a surprise, as Louisville as the nation's most efficient defense, according to KenPom.com.
Few teams have been able to keep Trey Burke and company to such a mark this season, however, Michigan averages 75.2 points per game and has failed to hit 70 points just once in the tournament—against Syracuse in the Final Four.
As you may have guessed, Michigan has the nation's most efficient offense, according to KenPom. Yes, folks, we've got a good ol' fashioned clash of styles on our hands.
Certain aspects of this matchup actually play in favor of Michigan. For instance, Louisville's press defense shouldn't affect an athletic Wolverines' team with a ball handler like Burke. Louisville forces a ton of turnovers, sure, but Michigan rarely turns it over.
Michigan has the athletes and shooters to score quickly after breaking the press rather than allowing Louisville to settle into its matchup zone.
But Louisville is so good at ratcheting up the pressure in the press and playing halfcourt defense, it's hard to imagine the Wolverines simply running roughshod over the Cardinals. Remember, Syracuse held Michigan to 61 points and 39.6 percent shooting from the field.
Not only is Louisville just as good defensively, it also has more depth, is a devastating team in transition and has a player in Russ Smith that is capable of simply taking over a game.
Remember, six of Michigan's seven losses this season have come against teams ranked in the top 13 of defensive efficiency (Ohio State, Michigan State, Indiana twice, Wisconsin twice).
Sure, you could also make the argument that Michigan has beaten three opponents (Kansas, Florida and Syracuse) ranked in the top 10 of defensive efficiency to reach this point, but only the win against Florida was convincing, as the Wolverines needed overtime to beat Kansas and only scored 61 points against Syracuse.
In the end, what actually might be the deciding factor in this game is Michigan's defense. Can the Wolverines force Louisville to take shots on the perimeter? Can they get back on defense in transition and limit Louisville's easy buckets? Can Mitch McGary win the rebounding battle?
It's rare we get a national championship game with such natural contrasts in style. Louisville and Michigan really are the perfect opponents. One team beats you with defense, the other with offense. If one of the oldest cliches around holds true, it will be Louisville that wins it all.
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