Louisville Cardinals head coach Pitino sits with Michigan Wolverines head coach Beilein ahead of the NCAA men's Final Four basketball championship in Atlanta

We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect National Title game


ATLANTA — On Monday night at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Michigan will be taking on Louisville for the right to call themselves the 2013 national champions.

All things considered, the way that the NCAA tournament and the Final Four has played out could not have been more perfect, because this national title game should be thrilling. I think there’s an argument to be made that this is the most anticipated national title game since 2005, when North Carolina and Illinois squared off as the nation’s two best teams. (To be fair, the finals in 2007, between Greg Oden’s Ohio State and defending champion Florida, and 2008, when Bill Self and John Calipari squared off for a ring, can make a case as well.)

Think about it.

Louisville has been dominant for pretty much this entire season. They were picked, along with Indiana, as the favorite to win the national title way back in October, and with the exception of one three-game stretch in the middle of January, they really haven’t faltered. They were the favorite prior to the start of the Big East tournament, and they became an overwhelming favorite entering the NCAA tournament after using a 44-10 second half run to erase a 16 point deficit against Syracuse in the title game.

And Michigan?

They were a preseason top five team. They were ranked No. 1 in the country at one point during the season. They entered the NCAA tournament having lost five of their last 10 games, which isn’t exactly an impressive achievement, but that came while the Wolverines weren’t getting much of anything out of their supporting cast. But with Mitch McGary playing like a guy that could end up being a first round pick if he decided to leave school this season, the Wolverines look like that team that was ranked No. 1 in the country again.

Louisville may be the best team in the country, but with this version of McGary, Michigan isn’t all that far behind.

But that’s not the only intriguing aspect of this game.

Louisville’s strength just so happens to match up perfectly with Michigan’s strength.

The reason that Louisville is so good is that their defense is just a night mare to try and play against. In fact, the Cardinals actually have the most efficient defense of the Kenpom era, which spans the last decade, and the reason that they are so efficient on the defensive end is their ability to force turnovers. They are second in the country in turnover percentage, a fact that is the direct result of how nightmarish guards Russ Smith and Peyton Siva are to dribble the ball against.

Michigan? They have the most efficient offense in the country, and while a lot of that has to do with a fella by the name of Trey Burke and the Wolverine’s ability to consistently shoot the ball from three, they are also the best in the country when it comes to protecting the ball. That’s right. The team that leads the country in forcing turnovers is going up against a team that doesn’t turn the ball over.

It gets better.

Michigan’s best player is Burke. In fact, he’s the best point guard in the country and has swept the National Player of the Year awards. Louisville’s best players? Smith and Siva, who just so happen to be two of the best perimeter defenders in the country and who will harass Burke up and down the floor for 40 minutes.

Oh, and Pitino is as big of a name and as much of a coaching celebrity as you’ll find at this level. If he hadn’t left for the NBA, he might be the best college basketball coach of all-time right now. John Beilein is an unassuming x’s-and-o’s guru that began as a community college coach in Upstate NY.

I cannot wait for this game. You should feel the same way.

Which, of course, probably means that it will end up being a 30 point blowout.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

POSTERIZED: Monmouth bench mob goes insane after huge dunk

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Monmouth has arguably been the most entertaining team in college basketball through the season’s first three weeks.

Let’s start with the obvious: They’re a mid-major outfit with a 5-foot-8 point guard that headlines a talented back court, one good enough to have notched upsets at UCLA and, this week, over No. 17 Notre Dame and USC at the Advocare Invitational in Orlando.

It’s pretty incredible, to be honest. They’ve managed to amass one of college basketball’s best resume despite being a MAAC program with a grand total of four NCAA appearances in their luxurious history.

But what makes this team so much fun isn’t just that they can’t seem to stop beating high-major competition, it’s that, in the process, their bench mob has become one of college basketball’s best.

Want some proof? Watch what happens after this Deon Jones poster dunk:

And here’s the wild part: that wasn’t even close to the best thing the bench did this week.

This was:


But there’s so much more.

Like, for example, the three arrows:

The touchdown pass:

The bench poster:

The heart attack:

They … caught a fish?

And, finally, the ‘OH SHHHHHHHHHHHH’:

Wichita State’s 0-3 week makes chances for at-large bid small

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

We’ve reached the nightmare scenario for Wichita State.

Having entered the season as the overwhelming favorite in the Missouri Valley, a top 15 team and a legitimate threat to reach a Final Four, after two weeks, the Shockers are in serious danger of missing out on the NCAA tournament altogether.

That’s not hyperbole, either.

Wichita State fell to 2-4 on the year after getting mollywhopped by Iowa in the 7th-place game of the Advocare Invitational. They ended up in the 7th-place game because they lost to USC and Alabama in the opening two rounds. The Hawkeyes look like the might be able to eke out an at-large berth if things fall the right way for them, but USC and Alabama are projected to finish at or near the bottom of their respective conferences. Even Iowa would do well to finish in the top half of the Big Ten.

Individually, none of those three losses are particularly terrible, and that’s before you factor in that all-american point guard Fred VanVleet sat out the trip to Orlando with a bad hamstring. They were also without back up point guard Landry Shamet in the tournament and it’s unknown when they’ll actually get Anton Grady back to full stretch. That matters to the NCAA tournament selection committee. They’ll factor it in when they determine where the Shockers will be seeded, or if they will even get an invite.

But throw in the loss at Tulsa from the first week of the season, and the Shockers are now 2-4 on the season.

And unlike the rest of the preseason top 25 — unlike the rest of the nation’s high-major programs — Wichita State won’t have a chance to load up on quality wins during league play. The Valley is better than we probably realized (more on that in a second), but it’s not like there are going to be a myriad of top 50 wins for the taking.

Look at Georgetown, for example. They Hoyas went 1-3 in the first week of the season, a stretch that included a home loss to Radford. But they also play in a conference where they’ll get home-and-homes against the likes of Villanova, Butler and Xavier.

The Shockers need to do their damage during the non-conference. They need to get the bulk of their resume put together before Valley play starts. Assuming they do win the rest of their non-league games, we’re not exactly looking at a daunting profile, either. The Shockers still have to visit Saint Louis and Seton Hall and host UNLV, Utah, Nevada and New Mexico State. UNLV and Utah should look like quality wins on Selection Sunday, but the rest of them?

Wichita State is putting themselves in a position where they may end up needing to win the Missouri Valley tournament just to get into the Big Dance, and the problem is that the Valley looks like it is really going to be tough this season. Northern Iowa notched a win over North Carolina already this year. Illinois State gave Maryland a fight and entered the season as a favorite to upset the Shockers. Evansville has two of the league’s five best players in D.J. Balentine and Egidijus Mockevicius.

They’re not waltzing through that conference by any stretch of the imagination.

That’s not exactly what VanVleet and Ron Baker had in mind when they decided to return to Wichita for one final season.