Louisville has only lost one game since Jan. 27 to Michigan's six, probably one of the reasons the Cardinals are a four-point favorite to beat the Wolverines in tonight's national championship game. It's been 34 years since the two teams met, and now they're on the biggest stage.
One of the big reasons U-M is there - Mitch McGary, who joins only three others in history (including Chris Webber) in averaging 16 points and 11.6 rebounds per game through five contests. It will likely be the guards, though, who carry the scoring load if U-M wins. Sophomore Trey Burke and junior Tim Hardaway Jr. seem due for breakout games, and the Wolverines will get their shots.
It's been 16 years since a No. 4 seed has won a national title, while a No. 1 has won it six of the last eight seasons. Will Louisville make it seven of nine? Here are our staff picks:
Chris Balas: It's going to take a better effort from the scorers against a talented Louisville team that mixes up its defenses, but Michigan loves to run. It's about breaking the press and scoring against it, something the Wolverines do extremely well.
This just seems like a team of destiny.
Michigan 74, Louisville 70
John Borton: Michigan has come too far to turn back now. It survived the toughest match-ups of the tournament in Kansas and Syracuse, has won against a host of different styles and with contributions nine deep, and some at the most opportune moments imaginable. Yes, Louisville is very good, its defense tough and its guards more than a handful.
But the Wolverines finish this one off.
Michigan 73, Louisville 71
Michael Spath: No matter the foe. No matter the challenge, this Michigan team has found a way. Louisville is the biggest challenge yet but the Wolverines have enough magic left.
Michigan 73, Louisville 70
Andy Reid: It's only fitting that Michigan is playing yet another defensive powerhouse for the national title. VCU's vaunted HAVOC press defense was supposed to stifle the Wolverines. There was no way Michigan was going to match up with Kansas' physical defense. Florida's defensive efficiency would surely give the Wolverines fits. OK, this has gone on long enough - of course Syracuse's 2-3 zone would end Michigan's run.
And now it's back to the press. There is no back court in the country that is better equipped to handle the aggressive Louisville defense than Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway and the gang. Expect the Wolverines to push the pace early and often - and if they can get out and run, they'll be cutting down the nets.
Michigan 72, Louisville 68
Tim Sullivan: The Wolverines' dream run will finally come to an end tonight. While U-M has been an underdog of various degrees against Kansas, Syracuse, and Florida (and even in some circles against VCU and South Dakota State), none of them have been the team that Louisville is.
Are they a hard-pressing team like VCU? Sure, but the Cards don't rely on that press (and the resulting turnovers) for their offense. They have the talent to score outside or in the post. The key will be preventing those points in the paint, and unless Mitch McGary's beast mode takes it to another level on the biggest stage, it'll be tough to slow down the UL offense.
Louisville 81, Michigan 69
Kevin Minor: Michigan eviscerated VCU's Havoc defense and, although they struggled late with Syracuse's desperation press, Louisville must be mindful of the Wolverine's ability to slice through pressure and get easy buckets. While a high tempo clash is to be expected between these two high-scoring squads, they both have the size and athleticism to slow down the opponent's attack.
Trey Burke hasn't had back-to-back off nights this season and I expect him to take over, and Mitch McGary will continue his tournament tear. U-M has peaked at the right time, and the underrated depth of John Beilein's squad will make an impact. The Maize and Blue hold off a late UofL charge.
Michigan 74, Louisville 68
Geoff "The Intern" Chiles: Once again, Michigan will go up against a team that has played excellent defense all season long. Louisville ranks 1st in the nation in defensive efficiency, but this will be no surprise to Michigan. They have made a living surviving against unique defenses in the Tournament. While Louisville forces more turnovers than any team, Michigan gives up the fewest in the country.
Once they break half court, Michigan should be able to score against Louisville. Louisville's weakness defensively is on the glass, which predicates that Michigan will get second-chance opportunities.
On the offensive end, Louisville excels at boarding the basketball. They rebound 38% of their missed shots. Michigan must rely on their bigs (Morgan and McGary) to hit the glass hard, and create quick scoring on the outlet pass. I feel like Michigan will be able to run and score in transition against the Cardinals.
Most of Louisville's offense comes via the ball screen. Siva is a fantastic passer, but not a great scorer. If Michigan's defense can defend the roll man (Dieng) effectively, and make Siva and others take jump shots, they have a great chance at winning. The key matchup will be McGary and Dieng. Avoid fouling Dieng, and keep him off the offensive glass.
It's going to be a tight game, but Michigan is on a roll right now, and has been successful at penetrating every other defense they have played. Trey will facilitate, and Glenn Robinson and Tim Hardaway must have monster games getting to the basket for Michigan to win.
Michigan 77, Louisville 73