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.
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.