2013 NCAA Championship Game Predictions: Michigan vs. Louisville
by Trevor Whenham - 4/7/2013
I was assigned an article to make 2013 NCAA Championship Game predictions. For a while I flirted with being objective — I really did. If you have read anything I have written over the last several years, though, you will know how obsessed I am with Michigan, and therefore how I couldn’t be even remotely objective if I tried. I mean, I have watched every game this team has played for years, and mostly it has been painful.
Now, thanks to a ridiculously talented, shockingly likeable group of youngsters there is no pain. Only joy. For the first time in as long as I can remember being a Michigan fan doesn’t mean trying to find the bright side of a crappy situation. It’s a very strange feeling, but I could grow to like it.
So, objective NCAA Championship game predictions are out. What I can write about, though, are five good reasons why Michigan can win this game. The team was installed as an underdog of between 3.5 and 4.5 points against Louisville. They face a massive challenge against a team that has won 15 straight and is clearly the best team in the country. The Wolverines are worth betting on, though, because they are going to cut down the nets for these five reasons:
They are Pitino-seasoned
In a strange way it seems as if this whole tournament run for Michigan was just training for this game.
What are the two things Louisville is astoundingly good at? Playing defense and forcing turnovers. When they win it’s because they have shut down and frustrated opponents. The stats say that Michigan hasn’t faced a defense better than this one — Louisville’s is the most efficient in the country. They have certainly been tested, though. Florida ranks third in national defensive efficiency. Kansas is fifth, just one spot ahead of Syracuse. Michigan has made a remarkable run against potent defenses, and has found different ways to win each time. They certainly aren’t going to be intimidated by the prospect of this opponent.
They also won’t be intimidated by the obsessive commitment to turnovers because they have already eaten fruit from that tree. Billy Donovan is as much of a Rick Pitino disciple as is possible to be. He doesn’t play a Pitino knock-off system defensively, but he certainly shares philosophies. Michigan saw, and overcame, what Florida had to offer. Shaka Smart was a Donovan assistant before becoming a head coach at VCU. He also shares many of the same philosophies, and he goes all in for forcing turnovers with his Havoc system. Michigan overcame that as well — which they should since they give up fewer turnovers than any team in the country.
Louisville will do things better than Michigan has seen before, but Michigan certainly doesn’t come into this blind.
Outside of Mitch McGary, the freshman center who had started just two games before the tournament but has looked like a megastar throughout this run, the two best players for Michigan on Saturday were Spike Albrecht and Caris Levert.
Albrecht was a lightly-recruited freshman point guard who is far more feisty than talented. Levert is another freshman who is so slight that the team intended to redshirt him this year before deciding to burn it after he started practicing well. Both guys come off the bench and aren’t typically core contributors, but they stepped up when they were needed.
So did Jordan Morgan, the junior forward who has been relegated to the bench with the rise of McGary. This team has nine players who have proven they can hurt you in the tournament. That gives them massive confidence.
The many-headed snake
When people who don’t follow Michigan talk about them, they talk about an offense that is driven by Trey Burke. While he is obviously outstanding, there is far more to this team.
The singular stat to explain why I have faith in this team is that all five of their starters have scored at least 20 points at least once in a tournament game this year. They have so many ways to kill you. Nik Stauskas has 22 points against Florida. He was scoreless against Syracuse and only played 18 minutes. Burke was offensively hopeless, largely because Syracuse concentrated on shutting him down. While they struggled others stepped up.
If you chop off one head of this offense another just takes its place. When the offense is working, as it has throughout the tournament, it is an absolute nightmare to defend against.
They can overcome horrific shooting
The Wolverines shot an underwhelming 39.6 percent from the field on Saturday. They were a horrifying 55 percent from the free throw line, including several key misses down the stretch when the points were badly needed. Two other teams this year have shot that badly on both fronts during this tournament. They lost by 29 and 22 points. Michigan is a shooting team that can win against outstanding opponents when not shooting well. That should terrify opponents.
They are playing with house money
Louisville should be the tighter team in this Championship Game. They were the top seed coming in and by far the most common choice to win in brackets. They are the public and wise guy favorite and have played like it throughout. They are expected to win, and they know it.
Michigan doesn’t face that. They are just a No. 4 seed — though they know they could and should have been higher if they hadn’t tripped up so badly down the stretch. Their survival is a miracle after that bizarre Kansas game. They are the youngest team in the entire tournament this year. They have already achieved more than almost anyone expected.
That doesn’t mean they will be complacent here — Beilein won’t let them be — but it does make it easier for them to be relaxed. As by far the younger team, they have a disadvantage in this game, but the relative lack of expectations should help to ease that disadvantage somewhat.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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