In 1986, I was a freshman at Purdue. My first year as a Purdue fan ended with the #6 Boilers playing a road game at #11 LSU ... neutral courts, ha ha. (Sure, LSU made the Final Four that year, and they had to beat Georgia Tech in Atlanta ... but still.) I didn't care as much about the tournament then as I do now, or else I might have paid more attention to a Louisville squad that knocked off Dale Brown's Tigers and held off a tenacious Duke squad to win their second title under Denny Crum. It would be their last trip to the championship game ... until 2013. (That Duke squad was coached by this Krzyzewski character - it was his first trip to the Final Four. Yes, I was watching basketball when Duke was the underdog.)
In 1989, I was a senior for the first time. (I liked being a senior, so I did a couple extra senior years. Those were fun times.) Bill Frieder made one of the dumbest job decisions in sports history, and Steve Fisher ended up winning the first six games of his Michigan coaching career. (He lost game #7, the 1989-90 season opener against Arizona.) A 65% free-throw shooter hit a pair of shots in overtime, and as a last-second prayer banged harmlessly off the backboard (I remember the shooter as Andrew Gaze, but that's not correct), the Wolverines captured their first NCAA title. It would be their last official trip to the championship game ... until 2013.
The two teams won their national semifinals in completely different fashion. Michigan never trailed Syracuse by more than five points, and when Caris LeVert hit a three at the 9:04 mark in the first half, the Wolverines had a lead they would hold the rest of the way. In contrast, Louisville started the game with a five-minute scoreless stretch, trailing Wichita State 8-0, led by no more than three in the first half, and was down 12 with 13 minutes to play ... the Cardinals didn't take the lead again until the 6:31 mark in the second half, and didn't hold it for good until Chane Behanan's tip with 3:03 left. Russ Smith led Louisville with 21, but had 5 turnovers and was 5-12 from the line; Trey Burke had just 7, but was charged with only a single turnover (and was third on the team in assists).
9:23 PM, #4 Michigan vs. #1 Louisville (-5), NCAA Final
- It's strength against strength, as the #1 offense (Michigan, 121.7) faces the #1 defense (Louisville, 82.4). Michigan leads the country in turnover percentage (14.5% on offense), and Louisville forces the second-most turnovers (27.3%) ... only VCU forced more (28.5%). The Rams forced 12 in their second-round loss to Michigan.
- A potential weakness for the Cardinals at that end of the floor is rebounding: Louisville allows 33.3% OReb (242nd), and while Michigan's overall numbers aren't great (32.5%, 139th), with the exception of the Florida game, the Wolverines have crashed the offensive glass well in tournament play.
- At the other end, Louisville has a slight advantage, as their offense (118.0, 5th) is better than Michigan's defense (91.6, 32nd). They usually rebound very well (38.1 OReb%, 17th), but Michigan also rebounds well (29.0% OReb allowed, 63rd), and although Louisville draws a lot of fouls (40.0 FTA/FGA, 68th), led by Smith (6.8 FD/40, 16th in NCAA), Michigan fouls less often than any other NCAA team (22.2 FTA/FGA).
- A potential weakness for the Wolverines is two-point defense: Louisville hits 51.0% (44th), and Michigan allows a slightly-above-average 47.7% (182nd). This actually plays into the Cardinals' hands, because they don't shoot threes well at all (32.9%, 216th).
- Neither team goes deep into their bench: Michigan gives their bench only 20.3% of available minutes (334th), and while Louisville's percentage is normally higher (32.1%, 131st), a good bit of that was Kevin Ware (39.9% of available minutes), so if I understand correctly, that leaves Louisville at about 24.1%.
- Louisville's last loss in regulation was 53-51 at Georgetown. They shot just 3-11 from three and let the Hoyas grab 11 offensive rebounds (.355). Markel Starks and Otto Porter scored 17 apiece to lead Georgetown: Starks was 6-12 from two while Porter was 2-5 from three and 5-6 from the line.
- Michigan's last loss in regulation was 68-59 vs. Wisconsin in Chicago. The Wolverines were just 3-13 from three and hit just 10-17 from the line, while Wisconsin hit 8-22 from three. Ben Brust (of regular-season half-court heave fame) hit 4-7 as part of his 14 points; Traevon Jackson was 7-8 from the line in a 16-point performance.
- In a close game, look for teams to put Mitch McGary (.457) or Chane Behanan (.527) on the line. If you see Nik Stauskas (.851) or Peyton Siva (.860) there, the wrong guy's doing the fouling.
- A Louisville win will likely be keyed by turnovers and penetration, particularly if Smith can get McGary in foul trouble. The freshman has played a key role in Michigan's offensive resurgence, and if he spends time on the bench, Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford are unlikely to contribute at that level. Even without drawing fouls, Louisville can bury teams simply by forcing turnovers and getting easy baskets; twos don't add up as fast as threes, but it doesn't matter much if you string enough of them together.
- A Michigan win will likely come from an early first-half run that builds a lead Louisville can't overcome. With the exception of the Kansas game, Michigan has buried their NCAA opponents early: in addition to Syracuse, they led Florida wire-to-wire, led VCU from the 19:25 mark in the first half, and put away South Dakota State at the 5:45 mark in the first half. Burke, Stauskas, and Tim Hardaway Jr. all hit .381 or better from three-point range; if any of them gets hot, the Cardinals (now led by Luke Hancock's .372) aren't built to outscore that kind of offense having that kind of night.