NCAA Championship Game Preview
OUR NCAA TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREVIEW
IT'S MICHIGAN VS. LOUISVILLE FOR ALL THE MARBLES IN THE COLLEGE HOOP WORLD
By Jim Hurley:
So, what school is gonna put an end to this rather lengthy NCAA Championship drought?
The Louisville Cardinals - priced at 3-to-1 to win it all prior to the start of this NCAA Tournament (yes, the shortest price on the board, folks) - have not won a national title in men's hoops since 1986 and so be ready to hear plenty about Purvis Ellison and old '86 friends in tonight's CBS telecast.
On the flip side, the Michigan Wolverines - listed as a 12.5-to-1 betting favorite to win it all at the tourney's start - hasn't cut down any national championship nets since 1989 and so our best guess is that CBS play-by-play chap Jim Nantz will have something to say this evening about a guy named Rumeal Robinson. Don't you think?
Yet think about it for a moment:
Here are two mighty basketball programs and yet we've gone 27 years since the last time the 'Ville won it all and some 24 years since the last time the maize-and-blue kids conquered the college b-ball universe and you do have to wonder if the pressure has been mounting the past 46-to-48 hours in terms of what this all means to the winner ... and what heartache will be felt by the loser.
Keep in perspective the fact that Louisville has been expected to win right from the start of this year's "Big Dance" and that can be a heavy weight 'round one's shoulders while Michigan really was not expected to beat either Kansas or Florida in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games, respectively, and - let's face it - the 61-56 hang-on-for-dear-life win against Syracuse in last Saturday's national semifinal game was just about a toss-up tilt ... so does that mean Michigan's "playing with house money" here?
No, we wouldn't say that but it will be interesting to see which powerhouse team will be feeling the most early-game jitters here.
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers have roared right through this 2013 College Basketball post-season with a slew of NCAA Tournament Winners and there's more to come this evening with the Side & Totals play here in this Michigan vs. Louisville showdown plus there's plenty of NBA and Major-League Baseball Winners on tap too when you sign up today and be sure to check in with us either right here online or else at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453.
NCAA TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Georgia Dome - Atlanta, GA
#4 MICHIGAN (31-7) vs. #1 LOUISVILLE (34-5) - 9:22 p.m. ET, CBS
It's something you can say about both of these national title game combatants: Overall, neither received special games from their starting units in the Final Four wins two nights ago and so you would expect the "stars" to bounce back here. The $64,000 question is do you have more faith in Louisville guards Russ Smith and Peyton Siva - a duo that shot a horrid 7-of-26 from the field and 10-of-18 from the free-throw line this past weekend - or are you prone to believe that National Player of the Year winner Trey Burke will snap back for the Wolverines after his very shaky 1-of-8 FGs, 7-point game against the 'Cuse.
No doubt Wichita State imposed its will on that rough-and-tumble Final Four tilt the other night when Louisville eventually snagged a 72-68 non-cover win - the Shockers slowed the pace down whenever they could and it really bothered both Smith (who went too fast for his own good at times) and Siva. In a game that figures to be more "up-and-down" here you would figure Smith and Siva will shine - but ditto for Burke who is commended for committing just one turnover against the Orange but he sure disappeared for minutes at a time ... right?
If Louisville head coach Rick Pitino has his way, he'll never go zone here - remember he began the game against Wichita State in a zone so as to protect the foul-prone duo of Smith and Siva - but the bottom line is this Cardinals club needs to force turnovers, encourage their opponents to jack up quick shots and make things a helter-skelter style and that actually might benefit Michigan as John Beilein's bunch has more scorers at its disposal and you'd have to believe that Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Nik Stauskas - a combined 5-of-29 from the field in the win over Syracuse - will get some better looks here and some fast-break opportunities too that didn't always arise against an Orange zone that played great transition defense for most of the night.
What to Watch For -You might have noticed that Michigan and Louisville were eerily similar in their respective three-point shooting the other night with the Wolverines banging home 8-of-24 triples in all while the Cards shot 9-of-25 from beyond the three-point arc but this will be a major key here as our gut feeling is the 4-point underdogs from the Big 10 won't win unless they drill at least a dozen trifectas here plus the three-point defense against Smith, key reserve Luke Hancock (20 points including three made triples against Wichita State) and mates must be solid.
Keep in mind that Michigan allowed 'Cuse standstill shooter James Southerland an uncontested triple late - just can't be having much of that here against a Louisville team that figures to shoot it better than 22-of-49 overall from the floor here.
Also, Michigan must play Wichita State-like when it comes to turnovers: The Shockers wound up turning the ball over only 10 times but half-a-dozen of them came in the game's final 12-plus minutes and really kayoed any shot the Missouri Valley Conference club could swipe that game. If Michigan's careful with the ball - especially in the game's final 10-or-so-minutes - than Beilein's bunch should be right there at the finish line with a shot to win. P.S., expect frosh F Mitch McGary (10 points, 12 boards and 6 assists against Syracuse) to handle the ball plenty against the press as an outlet passer/safety valve of sorts.
The X-Factor - It doesn't take a rocket scientist to tell you that the benches for both teams are ultra-important here. The reserves saved the day for both Saturday winners as Michigan's backups (see Caris LeVert's 8 points and 4 rebounds in 21 minutes and Spike Albrecht's pair of triples against Syracuse) were simply terrific. Meanwhile, Louisville's reserves all grabbed onto gold stars too as the aforementioned Hancock was brilliant and F Montrezl Harris (8 points on 4-of-4 FG shooting in 11 minutes of game time) and walk-on Tim Henderson - now who's ever gonna forget his save-the-day back-to-back corner triples should Louisville wind up winning it all? - were fantastic. Tell us right now which bench plays better here and you may well have your answer as to who has the final "one shining moment" at night's end.
The Final Word - No ifs, ands or buts about it: The Louisville Cardinals need C Gorgui Dieng to come alive and be a major factor here after pulling a true disappearing act in Saturday's tight win against Wichita State. Dieng had zero points (0-for-1 shooting) and only two blocked shots in 30 minutes and a similar stat line here will prove hazardous to the Redbirds' health. Dieng must win the paint battle with the physical McGary and a couple of early-game blocks really could dramatically swing the momentum here.
On the other hand, if Michigan can spread the court and pick up some cheapie fouls on Smith and Siva - both reach in and make silly fouls way too often for guys with veteran status - than the Big 10 gang could be parading to the free-throw line where things have to go better than that 11-of-20 FT line result the other night.
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