Big Ten versus Big East. Offense versus defense. Trey Burke verses Peyton Silva. The underrated John Beilein versus the well-known Rick Pitino. For all the dandy of Cinderella teams in the NCAA Tournament, the daunting stretch has led us to a championship clash on Monday night between two traditional powers. Here’s how they match up:
If you’ve watched the tournament, you probably know who Burke is by now. All he’s done this year is average 18.5 points a game and 6.8 assists, playing his part as the Wolverines knocked out an impressive secession of San Diego State, VCU, Kansas, Florida, and Syracuse. Burke shoots nearly 38% from 3-point range. He recently received the John Wooden Award, which goes to the top player in college basketball. Tim Hardaway Jr. is no slouch either, averaging almost 15 points per game and also shooting 38% from 3.
But not so fast. Louisville brings its own talented tandem of guards, Silva and Russ Smith. Both are good but unpredictable on the offensive end, but where they really excel is on the defensive end, where the Cardinals often put pressure on opponents the whole length of the court. According to ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan, Louisville possesses college basketball’s most efficient defense, and it starts with the guards.
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Inside play is a weakness for Michigan. They are the 156th best team in the country at rebounding the basketball. They often employ a three-guard lineup. At 6-10, freshman Mitch MicGary (7.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg) is the Wolverine’s most imposing player, but he’ll have to match up against Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng. Dieng averages almost a double-double and blocks plenty of shots, too. The Cardinals will definitely have the advantage inside.
It’d be hard pressed to find two coaches who are more different. Both successful, sure, but Pitino has been in the limelight for seemingly his whole career, while Beilein has operated largely under the radar. Pitino has had stints with Boston University, Providence, Kentucky, the New York Knicks, Boston Celtics, and now, of course, Louisville. Prior to Michigan, Beilein’s biggest-profile stops have been at Richmond and West Virginia. But both men can coach or they wouldn’t be in this position.
This could be where the game will be decided. Both teams made their way through a tough conference season. Both teams have had to pull a tournament game out in which they were significantly behind. For Michigan, it was against Kansas, and for Louisville, Wichita State. Experience, from both the players and coach, may decide the game. Michigan starts three freshmen and no seniors. Pitino has won a national title before, and I think he’s going to do it again.
Prediction: Louisville 68, Michigan 63