The last day of the college basketball season.
Hard to believe it’s been five months already.
And I couldn’t be more excited about the national title game.
Key Player: Gorgui Dieng, Louisville
Mitch McGary has played the best basketball of his career during this tournament. He’s averaging 16.0 points and 11.6 boards in these five games, and the six assists he handed out against Syracuse were the biggest reason that Michigan was able to advance past Syracuse on Saturday night. Dieng is going to be the guy that matches up with McGary. Can Dieng keep him off of the offensive glass? Can he slow down McGary when Michigan run their pick-and-roll? Can he matchup with McGary at the high-post on the possessions that the Cardinals are in their 2-3 zone?
Perhaps just as important is the fact that Dieng is also Louisville’s rim protector. With shooters like Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III on the perimeter, Louisville isn’t going to be able to provide help on Burke. Dieng will have to be the eraser. If Dieng can give him trouble when he tries to get all the way to the rim, it will be a major boost for the Cardianls as they try to slow down the nation’s No. 1 offense.
Key Matchup: Michigan guarding Russ Smith and Peyton Siva
Much has been made of the matchup between Trey Burke and Louisville’s talented back court of Smith and Siva, but most of the attention has focused on whether or not the combination of Smith and Siva can slow down the National Player of the Year. But that’s not the biggest question: how will Michigan slow down Smith and Siva? Think about it. Those two make up the quickest back court in the country. Trey Burke is a better defender than he is given credit for, but trying to keep Siva out of the paint is not an easy thing to do. Can Tim Hardaway Jr. or Nik Stauskas defend Smith?
It puts John Beilein in an interesting position. Does he stick with his man-to-man if it’s getting carved up? Does he play Spike Albrecht more minutes? Will we see an appearance of Michigan’s 1-3-1 zone?
Key Stat: Turnovers
Everyone knows this by now. Louisville’s press is devastating, but Michigan may be the best team in the country when it comes to breaking the press.
Who Wins?: Louisville, 68-66.
Who ya got?
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.
The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.
The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.
They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.
That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.
So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.
Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:
With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.
At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes
“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:
“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”
“It’s all money.”
Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.
Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .
Want to talk about coaching luxuries?
Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.