But regardless of expectations, none of that will matter once the ball is tipped on Monday night. Then, it will be about two talented teams trying to play their best for 40 minutes in order to cut down the nets. Here are what I think will be the keys to the game.
People always say great guard play will carry a team a long way in the NCAA tournament, so it makes sense that the teams with the two best backcourts in the country are the last two standing. Peyton Siva is the main catalyst of Louisville’s defensive pressure while Trey Burke puts the Michigan offense in motion. Neither played particularly well in their last game so it will be interesting to see which team’s point guard handles the big stage and has a better bounce back performance. Louisville needs Siva to effectively get in the lane and Michigan needs Burke to handle the Louisville press and make open shots.
This game will feature two big men who have seen their NBA draft stock skyrocket during the course of the NCAA tournament. Gorgui Dieng has been a force for Louisville on defense and Michigan’s Mitch McGary has been arguably the most dominant player in the entire tournament. Dieng is a junior who occasionally struggles with fouls while McGary is a freshman who plays aggressively but is sometimes out of control. Both players are strong finishers at the rim and both have shown the ability to knock down the mid-range jump shot. Dieng is a little bit better defensively but McGary is a bit better in the open court. Whichever team gets better production from their big man has a great chance at winning.
Had it not been for Louisville’s bench, the Cardinals would not be playing in the championship game. Tim Henderson hit a couple huge shots coming off the bench for the Cardinals and Roanoke’s Luke Hancock was the best player on the floor against Wichita State. If both of them play well again against Michigan, this will give Louisville a huge lift. On the other side, Michigan needs solid play from its guards, which includes Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert. Part of Rick Pitino’s strategy is to wear down the opposition with intense defensive pressure. If the Wolverines can show their depth and withstand that pressure, they have a good shot at pulling the upset.
This game features my preseason pick to win the national championship (Louisville) against my preseason pick for player of the year (Trey Burke). I’ve been impressed with Michigan all season and thought they would reach the Final Four, but I’m sticking with the horse that got me here. I expect this to be a great game that is fun to watch and for Louisville to come away with a 78-71 victory.
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