The Louisville Cardinals and Michigan Wolverines both have loaded starting lineups. There’s plenty of star power to entertain on college basketball’s biggest stage.
If those stars balance each other out on Monday night, the bench players will decide which team is victorious.
Louisville’s starting line-up has averaged 55.7 points per game to this point in the season, and Michigan’s starting five have averaged 62.7 points per game. Louisville’s bench needs to provide offense to compensate for that scoring difference, while Michigan’s bench needs to play solid minutes to effectively rest the bulk of their firepower.
Here are the three bench players to keep an eye on in the championship.
Montrezl Harrell, Louisville, F
Center Gorgui Dieng was a ghost on the offensive end against Wichita State. Montrezl Harrell stepped up on a night when Dieng had zero points.
The 6’8” freshman went 4-for-4 from the field and added four rebounds. In a surprisingly tight game against the Shockers, Harrell was a huge difference-maker.
Harrell will probably log about 15 minutes of playing time against Michigan, and Louisville needs him to score above his season average of 5.7 points per game during that time.
Harrell’s defensive performance against emergent Mitch McGary will also be important. When Dieng is out, Harrell needs to play strong against the fellow freshman. Harrell doesn’t need to block shots the way Dieng does, but he needs to keep McGary off the boards and out of position for easy points.
Spike Albrecht, Michigan, G
The diminutive freshman has enjoyed a lot of media attention for his stellar tourney (UMHoops described him as the “unlikely NCAA tournament star”). Albrecht cannot disappear against the Cardinals.
The back-up point guard played sparingly during the season, but he saw serious minutes against VCU (15), Kansas (11) and Florida (14).
The importance of those minutes cannot be overstated. Trey Burke scored in single digits against South Dakota State and Syracuse while shooting an abysmal 3-for-20 (15 percent) from the field.
Burke scored over 15 in each of the three games Albrecht played 10+ minutes, and he shot a combined 39.2 percent from the field.
In the tournament, Burke’s play has depended on Albrecht’s play.
It’s more than just resting Burke though. Albrecht needs to be a steady leader when he’s on the floor for Michigan.
He is more than capable.
The freshman hasn’t looked rattled in a single game so far in the tournament: Albrecht has three turnovers total and hasn’t missed a three-point attempt. Michigan is hoping this is his biggest game yet.
Luke Hancock, Louisville, G/F
After his 20-point explosion against Wichita State, Hancock is probably the most visible bench player for either team.
Unfortunately, that 20-point game is his second-highest total for the season (after the five-overtime thriller) and far above his average of 7.7 points per game.
The Cardinals may need something close to that against Michigan though.
Hancock showed some consistency down the stretch against the Big East, so he’s not incapable of turning in solid performances back-to-back. He also doesn’t need to drop 20 again, but he does need to score in double digits.
Hancock’s three-point shooting and reliability at the charity stripe easily make him the best scorer off the bench for either team.
In what will almost certainly be a close game, expect Hancock’s performance to impact which school emerges as national champion.
*All statistics from ESPN.com.
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