No Cinderellas in the title game this year. It’s going to be all Big Time, all the way.
Rick Pitino is one of the most well-known college basketball coaches in the nation. He’s on his way into the hall of fame, his horse just punched its ticket to the Kentucky Derby, and his son was just hired to be the head coach at Minnesota. If it weren’t for that whole “player suffering a horrifying leg injury on live TV” thing, you’d think the elder Coach Pitino is living a truly charmed life right now.
John Beilein may not have as much obvious personal success going for him as Pitino, but check out his roster and you know fortune has smiled on him. He’s got the sons of NBA players like Tim Hardaway, Tito Horford and Glenn Robinson ready to go, alongside Player of the Year Trey Burke and some tall guy named Mitch McGary who seems to have blossomed of late.
Finding storylines in Atlanta will be like shooting fish in a barrel, so let’s take a brief look at the down and dirty of the matchups.
Frontcourt: Louisville has Gorgui Dieng (10.2 points, 2.5 blocks per game), Chane Behanan (9.6 ppg) and Wayne Blackshear (7.6 ppg) going up against Glenn Robinson III (11 ppg) and Mitch McGary (7.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg). In the Final Four, Michigan’s starting frontcourt showed a more deft scoring touch, and if McGary keeps playing the way he has over the past two games, this matchup tilts easily in Michigan’s favor. Dieng’s shot-blocking prowess would seem to be a factor until you consider that McGary handled Jeff Withey just fine in the Sweet Sixteen.
Backcourt: Here’s where the real fireworks happen. Burke vs. Siva is an intriguing point guard matchup, as we all will watch breathlessly to see if the basket-challenged Siva can put the clamps on premium scorer Burke. Tim Hardaway, Jr. going up against the lightning-quick Russ Smith will be something to see, as well. Things get a bit murkier on the wing, where Nik Stauskas may see more of Luke Hancock instead of Blackshear. If Smith can keep from doing anything too Russdiculous, this one is close.
Bench: Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert have put in important minutes for Michigan, and held their own pretty well. Louisville, on the other hand, has a couple of guys who have gone off recently, in Montrezl Harrell and Luke Hancock. Now, Hancock played 31 minutes in Atlanta already, so his bench status is a bit of a technicality on some nights, but we have to give the edge to the Cards.
On sheer talent, this is Michigan’s game. On experience and coaching savvy, it’s Louisville all the way.
In terms of style, Michigan has shown an ability to play at any speed. The Wolverines wrecked VCU, which plays a style very similar to what Louisville does, and they’ve run with Kansas, banged with Florida and carved up the Syracuse zone. Louisville has won 15 straight and seems to be able to force the tempo of the game to their own pace. That’s where the true yin-yang of this whole final coalesces. Fortunately, I don’t know which style will win – not knowing is what makes it so intriguing.
Hold on to your hats (especially you, Tim Hardaway, Sr.!) this is going to be an epic title game.
Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.