It was hyped as one of the best games that we are going to get this college basketball season, and the showdown between new No. 1 Louisville and No. 4 Michigan was anything but.
It wasn’t pretty, not in the slightest. It was one of the ugliest basketball games that you are going to watch this season. It didn’t look a battle of top ten teams, it was the personification of what everyone in America thought Virginia basketball has been for the last half-decade. It was what Sloth from The Goonies is to iconic movie characters. It was as aesthetically pleasing as Jabba the Hut.
And the best part about it, at least if you are Louisville head coach Chris Mack, is that pretty doesn’t show up anywhere in the win-loss column.
The Cardinals simply overwhelmed Michigan. The Wolverines had five points with seven minutes left in the first half. They didn’t reach double-figures until Isaiah Livers hit their first three of the game with 3:43 left in the half. As a team, they shot 25.9 percent from the floor and just 3-for-19 from three. Outside of Jon Teske and Zavier Simpson – who were a pedestrian 10-for-29 from the field, the rest of the Wolverines managed just a 5-for-29 shooting night.
That’s how you lose 58-43 as the No. 4 team in America.
And we’ll get to Michigan in a second.
Because I think there are some things that we need to discuss there.
But I want to make it clear: This win was about Louisville. The reason that the Wolverines struggled offensively were because of the defense the Cardinals played. Louisville is long and athletic and versatile. Michigan missed a number of open looks down the stretch, but the reason for that is because Louisville never allowed them to get into any kind of a rhythm.
This is important.
Chris Mack is one of college basketball’s best offensive minds. He has a favorite for National Player of the Year on his roster in Jordan Nwora. It was pretty safe to assume that the Cardinals were going to be able to score this year, even with the questions we have about their point guard play. At some point, you just trusted that good coaching ensure that Louisville would be fine.
But entering Tuesday night, Louisville was No. 2 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric, and I think there is a virtual certainty that number regresses as the season moves on. Louisville started the night with three players shooting better than 50 percent from three. That just isn’t sustainable, and even with some of the early success that he has had, I’m not convinced Darius Perry is the answer at the point. Michigan proved as much. The Wolverines are a real defense, as opposed to the seven sub-75 opponents that Louisville had feasted on to start the season. It’s not all that surprising, then, that they managed 58 points on 65 possessions while shooting 36.7 percent from the floor and 4-for-19 from three.
I say that to say this: I think that if Louisville can defend the way that they defended against Michigan, that’s the difference between being one of the best teams in college basketball in a year where No. 1 is a revolving door and truly setting themselves apart as the nation’s best.
The question then becomes whether or not this performance was matchup based.
Louisville did a terrific job defending Michigan’s ball-screen offense. Their length bothered Zavier Simpson, it took away passing lanes and it forced Michigan to play more 1-on-1 than they are comfortable with. Put another way, Simpson had been averaging nearly 10 assists per game by himself entering Tuesday night. As a team, Michigan finished with just six assists against Louisville.
It was a clinic.
But this is also a Michigan team that had just spent a bunch of time in the Bahamas. They had just played three games in three days, two of which came against top ten teams. The third game was on Friday. They had to fly back to Michigan before flying to Louisville for this game, which comes in the first game that the Cardinals were ranked No. 1 after everything that happened with the end of the Rick Pitino era.
I’ll say it again: This was the first meaningful game that the Cardinals have played all season long. They were fired up. They were ready to prove themselves to the country. This was a pretty clear letdown spot for the Wolverines.
So while it is very impressive that Louisville smothered Michigan to the point that a battle of top five teams was only competitive for the first five minutes of both halves, I am nowhere near ready to leap off of the Michigan bandwagon.