The NCAA National Championship Game has finally arrived and is here, and Louisville vs Michigan looks to be one of the most interesting matchups that could have resulted. Two excellent coaches, with two unique schemes, ala Beilein’s “Magic Bus” vs Louisville’s “Pressure”. Some excellent player matchups. Two top star players in Michigan’s POY Trey Burke and Louisville’s Russ Smith. A young team of mostly upstart Fabulous Freshmen on Michigan against a team of mostly seasoned veterans on Louisville. Indeed this is the best matchup that could have resulted, and should be a great game. This website’s hoops expert staff has already detailed in various articles the fact based keen insight analysis and correct takes that all College Fans should avidly read prior to the game to understand just how each team deservedly got to the Finals. This article provides the keen insight analysis you crave for tonight’s game.
Louisville’s comeback win over Wichita State had the Shockers exposing some of Louisville’s weaknesses while showing some of Louisville’s unexpected strengths. By getting all five men back on defense Wichita was able to neutralize Louisville’s fast break and transition and force them into the half court. For most of the game Wichita’s deliberate slow and sure press breaking and ball handling, done with smart attention to spacing and double team denial eliminated Louisville’s defensive pressure. However Louisville also showed they can play and win in the halfcourt game. And Wichita State’s turnover implosion, as short a duration as it was, showed that rock control needs to last 40 minutes straight against Louisville, as even if you play most of the game with low turnovers, Louisville’s constant pressure can result in a game changer period of turnovers to conversions.
Michigan’s tough win over Syracuse showed that Michigan is not just a great 3 ball perimeter shooting and fully capable fast break transition offensive team, and for a half that their capability on the offensive end can be shut down and their star player stopped cold offensively. However the game also showed they indeed can play stopper team defense, and shut opponent team scoring down to win. Also while Michigan has the best player on the floor in PG Trey Burke, who still is the most capable of taking over a game and carrying Michigan on his back offensively like no other player in college ball today, Michigan showed exactly what has been foretold on this website, that Michigan’s young Freshmen oriented team is far more than Sophomore POY PG Trey Burke. Michigan’s Freshman are indeed Fabulous, and all the Michigan Freshmen have contributed mightily. This Freshman impact has been led by the emergence of PF/C Mitch McGary, who has been dominant in the paint on offense and defense. Burke is gathering in all the POY awards to be had, but if McGary has another solid championship game like all the other games he’s already had in the NCAA tournament, he will be the NCAA Tournament’s MVP, and deservedly so!
So both teams can play defense, both teams can force turnovers and get steals, both teams can score to win in the halfcourt, both teams can run the floor and play transition. Louisville and Michigan are more similar really than national analysts are giving them credit for. They both have multiple capabiltiies. Because of that this game could be a wide open game, or a halfcourt game, or a defensive struggle, or a combination of all at different points in the game. It would seem that with the equal capabilities the game boils down win wise to who imposes their will on the other. And imposing will boils down to solid player execution and not missing or messing up assignments. Given both teams similar capabilities, a couple of basic rules of basketball should be the focus of this game per imposing your will on another, as follows:
Run Or Be Run! Michigan will want to stop Louisville from running the floor and Louisville will want to stop Michigan from running the floor. While getting back on defense is probably every novices simple minded answer to that, the real answer is the rule of Run Or Be Run. If you don’t want the other team to run against you, then run against them. it’s just plain hard for an opponent to fast break on you after you just scored on a fast break. Of course that fast break run requires precurser execution and assigments, like making sure to box out, making sure to get the rebound, making sure to outlet quickly, making sure to fill the lanes for getting the fast break numbers that lead to easy opportunities and making sure to finish and score. Then you can get back. The team that runs the other will punish the other while taking the other out of a big part of their game!
Stop The Penetration! Louisville guards Russ Smith and Peyton Siva are excellent penetrators, as is Michigan’s guard Trey Burke and to some extent Tim Hardaway. They each use their penetration capability to score but more important a lot of the halfcourt opportunities for each of these teams is the direct result of penetrate and dish scenarios. Michigan has the much harder task here. while Burke and Smith are both top penetrators who use this to score, Smith uses penetration to get to the Free Throw line as well as any guard in college ball. Because Burke tends to pull back or fade away, while Smith tends to jump into opponents, Smith’s 273 trips to the line are markedly better than Burke’s 157. Siva and Hardaway are comparable at 92 and 107, respectively, lower but still a consideration to be sure. Thus it is important to keep opponents from penetrating this game in the halfcourt, as with these guards penetration can lead to lead to a lot of direct scores, a lot of create and dish for assisted scores, a lot of scoring via the Free Throw line, and what may be worse a lot of fouls that can lead to key players sitting on the bench. When you have players as adept at penetrating as Smith and Burke, help from guards/wings next to you is mandatory. You absolutely don’t want a Smith or Burke getting into the paint and fouling out your big man!
Find The Shooter! This game when in the halfcourt is also about paying attention to who is the perimeter shooter of note, who it is that is the hot hand, and making sure to prevent the hot shot from occurring. Without question this task is harder for Louisville as Michigan has 4-5 players that can shoot from the perimeter. Safe to say if all Michigan’s perimeter shooters get hot it’s game over for Louisville. However Michigan’s players have shown all year they can be hot and cold, and tend to be hot when they start off hot and stay cold when they start off cold. So Louisville closing out quickly and stopping the 3 ball threat early in the game, hurting confidence, not allowing Michigan’s shooters to “get that feeling”, is critical. However Michigan cannot take Louisville for granted from the perimeter. Louisville 3 balled it’s way to a win vs Wichita State. Not so much on a percentage basis, but certainly on a critical shot basis. Louisville’s perimeter shooters are not pecentage shooters but certainly crill them when they need them. Facts are Smith kept Louisville close with his 3 balls, and Luke Hancock at 3-5 and Tim Henderson at 2-3 were killer for Louisville, the nails in the Shocker coffin. Even Piva and Blackshear can also get hot at times. Although Louisville is not a good a perimeter shooting team as Michigan, Louisville’s better penetration threat can lead to far better perimeter looks for Louisville than Michigan will have, and shot selection can ba a neutralizer 3FG% wise. Michigan cannot allow Louisville to get open with the time to make those critical 3 balls.
Those key rules of basketball noted for this game, it the game may also be decided on who’s defensive scheme wins out. Michigan will play man to man. Louisville plays a matchup zone full court press and in the halfcourt a 2-3 matchup zone, which is similar to Syracuse in many ways. If Louisville’s matchup press and matchup 2-3 zone works, then game over! However Wichita State showed for most of the game that under control and by paying attention to the pressing defenders locations and the likely traps, and with proper spacing and smart ball handling and passing the press is readily broken, the Louisville scheme can be beaten. What is more important for Louisville to be aware of, and Pitino certainly is, is that Wichita State broke the press only to get the ball over halfcourt and set up their half court offense. However Michigan might break the press to take advantage of the inherent weakness of the press and that is easy shot opportunties, particularly easy 3 ball shot opportunities, which Wichita State did not take advantage of. Beilein is certainly familiar with the matchup press and 2-3 matchup zone, and Michigan already showed they can handle pressing and matchup zone teams. So the potential is that Louisville’s Plan A feeds right into Michigan’s Plan A, and that is good 3 ball shot selection for Michigan. Thus if Michigan readily handles this pressure and converts it to oportunity, then what is Lousville’s Plan B defensively. The only Plan B is man to man, and thus the game might be decided on if Louisville can matchup man to man against Michigan. The key to beating these two The real game story here might be that this is to become a game of man to man matchups. If so, the matchups are great and will determine spot by spot who imposes their will on who. Whoever can win out on these individual matchups will be huge, and the final count likely deciding which team wins the game. Here’s how the matchups look:
PG: Siva vs Burke. Obviously everybody is looking for Burke to score big in the Finals, and that may come true if Siva does not do his job. Siva is tasked with not allowing Burke to get on a roll. This is a hard row to hoe for Siva to be sure. While Burke had some problems getting his shots off and even with creating to assist against Syracuse’ length, Siva is more Burke’s size for scoring against and creating against. Siva is just going to need a lot of help from his teammates. PERIOD! For Burke’s part, and maybe the more important factor really, is that he also needs to focus on his own defense far more than his own ppg offense. Michigan is best when Burke is the 3rd/4th option, creating for others offensively, and working hard to cut his opponent guard down season average stat wise defensively. Burke, and Michigan, cannot afford to have Siva getting into double figures ppg wise. And even more important Burke needs to look to limit Siva’s 6 per game assist capability to keep Louisville the team from getting going. Burke cannot allow Siva to penetrate and put pressure on McGary or Michigan’s typical lone big man. Like Burke’s excellent defensive job on Syracuse guard Carter-Williams showed, stopper defense might be more important outta Burke than ppg.
Smith vs Hardaway – As tough a row to hoe as Siva has against Burke, it’s even tougher for Hardaway against Smith. Smith is cat quick and race car fast, can penetrate as well as anyoe in colllege ball, doesn’t mind getting contact to get to the foul line, and can hit enough 3 balls to keep defenders honest. Smith is Louisville’s top scorer and top big shot scorer, the go to guy. And all that spells big trouble for Hardaway defensively. Hardaway must use defensive smarts to overcome Smith’s athletic speed/quickness, stopping penetration by cutting the angles in advance, forcing and herding Smith to help from teammates. Above all it is critical to not let Smith run the full court. Every point stopped that cuts more points off Smith’s average is huge, Huge, HUGE! Hardaway is offensive minded and that split second of delay after a missed shot and Louisville rebound is all that is needed to lose the full court battle to Smith. Smith obviously can’t let Hardaway get going from the 3 ball perimeter in the halfcourt. In the full court Smith can definitely take advantage of Hardaway for steals, as Hardaway ball handling limitations have certainly been scouted and identified as a big opportunity by Pitino for Smith. Frankly Beilein must be thinking now it’s best Hardaway just runs down the floor without the ball to bring Smith with him. Offensively speaking Hardaway needs to be smart about perimeter shot selection, so he takes good shots and gets his confidence going. Additionally Hardaway’s size could be put to advantage against Smith with some midrange or guard post up options. One of these guys is likely going to have a foul problem.
SF/Wing: Hancock vs Stauskas. Hancock is officially a sub but figures in to get the majority of minutes over Blackshear because Louisville will need his perimeter shooting in the halfcourt. Hancock and Stauskas are similar then in that they each are perimeter 3 ball specialists for their team. Both are not known for defensive prowess however both are going to have to rise to the occasion defensively to stop the other guy from going off from the 3 ball line. Hancock is seasoned and Stauskas is a Freshman. Hancock’s scoring from the 3 ball perimeter line may indeed be more important to Louisville than Stauskas’ 3 ball perimeter scoring is to Michigan. It’s fair to say Michigan has a potential problem here as Stauskas never covers the good offensive player because he loses focus on defense and “gets lost thinking about post game pizza”. Hancock for his part will have to watch out that he covers Stauskas on the perimeter, because Stauskas is one of the leading 3 ball shooters in the nation, but also realizes Stauskas can put the ball on the floor and drive to the basket, finishing with some nifty moves.
PF/Wing: Behanan vs Robinson. Michigan Robinson is an excellent PF/Wing, and can score from the perimeter and in the paint. He is the real “Dunk City” of the tournament and is a walking highlight show, which can really pump up Michigan the team. Robinson is an excellent rebound and put back artist. Needless to say Behanan will have to keep Robinson off the offensive boards, and away from the rim on backdoor alley oops, as well as watching out that Robinson is not left wide open on the perimeter, because he can drill it. The problem with Robinson defensively is similar to Stauskas, in that he loses concentration and focus. Maybe Stauskas and Robinson split a pizza post game?! Robinson got crucified by Syracuse’s Fair. Now Behanan is not as offensive a skill as Fair, unless Robinson’s loss of focus turn Behanan into an impact. Behanan is not a 3 ball or perimeter threat, but he is a great rebounder and gets almost as many offensive rebounds as defensive, so Robinson must work hard to keep Behanan boxed out and away from the rim.
C: Dieng vs McGary. Dieng’s height and reach make him a potent rebounding force and defensive intimidation factor in the paint. McGary is a Freshman who has exploded in the NCAA Tournament, averaging a double double in the NCAA tournament, carrying Michigan on his back against the like of Kansas and Syracuse. Dieng’s length could give McGary problems, and fouls is always a concern with a Freshman center. Dieng is averaging 9.4 rebounds per game and 9.8 points per game, and does that scoring at an efficient 53% clip. McGary is ot a great leaper at all, and uses beef and position, and thus cannot let Dieng get down low close to the rim where Dieng’s reach will be the deciding factor. On the flip side McGary plays with both hustle and smarts and used that to demolished Kansas’ 7 footer Withers. Dieng will have his hands full matching McGary’s energy and constant motion. McGary never gives up on a play and is constantly jockeying for rebounds or position. McGary of late has also shown the ability to hit the 15 foot high post shot and an excellent capability to pass from that position to find open teammates down low or on the perimeter. Add in that McGary can run the full court and get fast break or transition shots as well as any big man. Comparisons have been made favorable to Dave Cowans, and deservedly so!
There you have it, the keen insight analysis you crave, and what you need to prepare yourself for a great NCAA Tournament Final. College Basketball Fans can use that analysis later to impress their friends. One last note is that our own Michifella picked Michigan to make the finals and win in his bracket. Interesting just a bit. But in the here and now feel free to vote on who you think will win.