As much as I love college basketball, I’ll be honest: a lot of recent NCAA title games have been real duds. But, tonight’s matchup between Louisville and Michigan could shape up as one of the all-time classics. Here are four reasons why.
Both teams can (gasp!) score!
I won’t dwell on it because, if you read my blog regularly, you know I’ve harped on why college hoops isn’t nearly as much fun as it used to be. The reasons are many, but it all comes down to this: teams don’t put points on the board like they used to. In the last three years, the losing team in the title game hasn’t broken 60 points. In the last title eight games, the winner has scored over 75 points just twice.
The poster child for un-entertaining basketball games was two years ago, when Connecticut beat Butler by a 53-41 count.
That shouldn’t be a problem tonight; Michigan comes in averaging 75.2 points and Louisville, 74.3. Michigan shoots 48.3 percent from the field; the Cardinals, a respectable 45.6 percent. Both teams are also right between 70-71 percent from the foul line.?
Anything can happen in basketball — for all I know, both coaches could choose to slow the tempo — but the fact is, both teams have fantastic athletes who can run the fast break and also and create in the half-court, and everything points to this being one of the better offensive contests in years.
Strength vs. strength
As college hoops stats gurus know, scoring offense and defense aren’t just about raw point totals any more. Instead, it’s about efficiency and points per possession, and nobody tracks those things better than Ken Pomeroy (kenpom.com).
So, how’s this for a match-up? Michigan is the nation’s most efficient scoring offense, and Louisville, the nation’s No. 1 team in defensive efficiency.
What makes this a truly great match-up is both teams’ guards.
Michigan point guard Trey Burke is the National Player of the Year; his counterpart, Louisville’s Peyton Siva, might be the best defensive guard in the country (86 steals). Siva is a tremendous on-ball defender with great lateral quickness, and is a fantastic creator on the other end. There may not be a better individual match-up of two players than the one you’ll see between these guys tonight.
The match-up between 2-guards Russ Smith (Louisville) and Tim Hardaway, Jr. (Michigan) will also be a dandy. Smith has Siva’s quickness and hands (83 steals) and can put up a flurry of baskets as quickly as anyone in the country. Hardaway isn’t as accomplished on the defensive end, but he’s six inches taller than Smith with explosive athleticism. He can beat teams both with the drive and on the catch-and-shoot, and will be as tough a defensive assignment as Smith’s had all season.
As good as Siva and Smith are, Burke and Hardaway are gifted enough to get by them and get to the rack on some occasions. But when they do, a 6-foot-11 shot-blocking machine in Gorgui Deng will be waiting to greet them.
How will all that sort out? I don’t know, but seeing teams go strength-vs.-strength alone makes tonight worth watching.
One of the best things about this time of the year is watching freshmen come into their own. So when you look at Wolverine freshman forward Mitch McGary’s stat line on the season — 7.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game — you can ignore it, because McGary’s averages during the NCAA Tournament (16 points, 11.6 rebounds) are more indicative of the guy taking the floor for Michigan right now.
Interestingly, McGary was originally rated as the No. 2 player in the country by major recruiting services as a high school senior, but dropped into the high-20s after it became apparent that his offensive game wasn’t developed enough. Well, McGary has gone 37-for-53 from the floor in the tournament, and has flashed the ability to hit face-up jumpers well away from the basket.
That’s really one of the few questions about his game, as McGary has always been a good athlete. According to Wikipedia, McGary delivered papers on a unicycle as a child, enjoys skateboarding and can throw a baseball close to 90 miles per hour.
It’s thought that Burke and Hardaway are playing their last college games tonight and will declare for the NBA Draft. The way McGary is playing, he may well join them.
One reason both teams score so much is that they’ve got plenty of help. Probably no team in the country has been as deep as Louisville the last two years, which is why, when Kevin Ware went down with that horrific broken leg in the Elite Eight, the Cardinals were able to carry on and get to this point.
The Cards may well play 10 men tonight, one of them being freshman Luke Hancock, who helped Louisville come from behind to send Wichita State packing on Saturday by scoring 20 points (on just nine shots) in 31 minutes off the bench.
Proving that there was more where that came from, little-used walk-on Tim Henderson came off the bench to give coach Rick Pitino a pair of huge 3-pointers in 10 minutes of play against WSU.
Michigan may not have Louisville’s depth, but the Wolverines are far from a three-man show. Glenn Robinson III, who starts at small forward, may also be a one-and-done player. Freshman point guard Spike Albrecht is giving Michigan great minutes off the bench, and could have a big role against Louisville’s press. Caris LeVert, part of the famous musical family with the same last name, has also become a big contributor off the bench.
So, even if some of the game’s big guns get in foul trouble, we’ll still be watching good basketball.