A look at tonight's NCAA championship game:
LOUISVILLE (34-5) vs. MICHIGAN (31-7)
ROAD TO THE TITLE GAME
Beat No. 16 North Carolina A&T 79-48; beat No. 8 Colorado State 82-56; beat No. 12 Oregon 77-69; beat No. 2 Duke 85-63; beat No. 9 Wichita State 72-68.
Luke Hancock came off the bench to score 20 points on 6-for-9 shooting, including three 3-pointers, each bigger than one before. Hancock had scored in double figures just once in the tournament and that was 10 points against Duke.
Tim Henderson, who had scored six points since Christmas, hit two 3-pointers when the Cardinals were down 12 points to turn the tide against Wichita State.
Rick Pitino is the only coach to have taken three different schools to the Final Four (Kentucky, Providence) and he has a chance to become the first coach to win a national championship at two schools (Kentucky, 1996). On the same day the Cardinals beat Wichita State, Goldencents, a horse co-owned by Pitino, won the Santa Anita Derby, a major prep for the Kentucky Derby. His son Richard was named coach at Minnesota during the week and on Monday, Pitino will find out if he has been elected to the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.
The Cardinals again showed they are a resilient team, rallying from 12 points down with 13:36 to play against the Shockers. That wasn't quite as impressive as the Big East tournament championship game when Louisville rallied from a 16-point deficit with 15:51 to play to win by 17. Their 15-game winning streak is their longest since 2003-04.
ROAD TO THE TITLE GAME
Beat No. 13 South Dakota State 71-56; beat No. 5 VCU 78-53; beat No. 1 Kansas 87-85, OT; beat No. 3 Florida 79-59; beat No. 4 Syracuse.
Freshman forward Mitch McGary had 10 points, 12 rebounds and six assists against Syracuse and it was during the 4 minutes he was out after picking up his third foul that the Orange started to make their run. McGary didn't become a starter until the NCAA tournament and he is averaging 17.0 points and 11.6 rebounds in the five games.
Freshman guard Caris Levert, who is listed at 6-foot-5 and 170 pounds, had eight points and four rebounds in 21 minutes against Syracuse, numbers that seem even larger with AP Player of the Year Trey Burke going 1 for 8 from the field and fellow starting guards Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas combining to shoot 4 for 21.
John Beilein is in his first Final Four and he drew praise from fellow coaches for the way Wolverines handled Syracuse's 2-3 zone and the Orange's comeback bid. He looks more like a high school teacher than a modern day college basketball coach but nobody has their team more prepared.
Their youth didn't seem to bother the Wolverines against Syracuse and they have plenty of guards available to handle Louisville's pressure. Burke has had big games following off ones and that should worry Louisville since he missed seven of his eight shots against Syracuse.
There will be plenty of good guards in the championship game and Michigan will need every one of them to handle Louisville's relentless pressure. Handling McGary inside will be key and that means Louisville will need a big game from center Gorgui Dieng who took just one shot and blocked just two in 30 minutes in the semifinal.
Nate Thompson: Michigan may struggle some against Louisville’s pressure, but the Wolverines will get enough points in transition to make the Cardinals pay. It’s also time for Trey Burke to break through in the scoring column after struggling to find his shot against Syracuse’s zone. U-M will build a strong lead at the half and then hold on for dear life, 75-72.
Matt DeYoung: My knock on Michigan all year has been its lack of defensive intensity and its inability to secure defensive rebounds. It seems Mitch McGary’s infusion into the starting lineup has helped cure some of those woes, especially rebounding. Scoring has never been a problem. If Michigan can beat Syracuse with Nick Stauskus and Trey Burke combining to shoot 1-of-13 from the floor for just 7 combined points, just think what the Wolverines will do if those two find their strokes? Let’s just hope it doesn’t come down to free throws at the end, and if it does, keep the ball out of McGary’s hands! Michigan’s guards are good enough to handle the Louisville press, which will be key in the Wolverines’ 67-61 win.