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Monday, April 8, 2013

Birds and the Beileins

Louisville and Michigan meet tonight to play for the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball championship. These are two teams that have demonstrated that they have what it takes to win a championship. They both traveled different roads to reach tonight's National Final game.

Prelude to a Championship

Louisville Cardinals

Coached by recent Basketball Hall of Fame-elected Rick Pitino, the Cards, by and large coasted through the regular season and the Midwest Region. As we discussed on Friday, Saturday's National Semifinal against Wichita State was not a cakewalk, but the Cards were able to emerge victorious and advance. I was skeptical about Louisville, a team with five losses, being the number one overall seed in the tournament, but the X-factor throughout the tournament has been coaching. Pitino has won big in every tournament matchup.

Louisville wins if: Rick Pitino outcoaches Michigan Head Coach John Beilein. If Pitino keeps his team one step ahead of Michigan...if Pitino is always one or more tactical moves ahead of Coach Beilein...if the Cardinals hold the leverage in the foul situation, timeouts, the possession arrow in an extremely close game, then I think Louisville wins no matter what Michigan does.

Louisville loses if: The Cardinals defense cannot contain Michigan along the perimeter. Michigan can run and shoot with the best off teams. While they will probably not stop National Player of the Year, Michigan point guard Trey Burke, they must stop him from getting hot and running amok. Louisville can also ill-afford careless turnovers and needs to hold its own in the paint. That means it cannot let Michigan win the offensive rebounding battle.

Rick Pitino was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame last week.  2

Michigan Wolverines

Coach John Beilein has had teams capable of reaching the Final Four during his six year tenure at Michigan. This is the first team that has had everything come together at the right time during the tournament. The Wolverines had trouble in big games during the regular season. In the Big Dance, however, the chant was "Go Blue" after the final buzzer when it counted. A clutch win over Kansas in the South Region Semifinals and a chess match/marathon win over Syracuse in Saturday's National Semifinal has Michigan just one win away from its first National Championship since 1989.

Michigan wins if: They shoot the ball well. Michigan has elite perimeter play from its guards, Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. They have role players who can bury the jumper. Michigan needs to take and make its high percentage shots.

Michigan loses if: If Michigan falls behind early, they will find it difficult to run against Louisville. Louisville is a solid defensive team that should have a slight but significant advantage over the Wolverines under the boards and in the post. Also, if Michigan allows Louisville to dictate the tempo of the game, Michigan will have problems. Louisville has a depth deficit in its backcourt following the injury to guard Kevin Ware. If Louisville can play its game offensively and slow Michigan down when Michigan has the ball, this will make it difficult for the Wolverines to force turnovers and build any big leads.

Michigan Head Coach John Beilein 1
One Shining Moment

Louisville gained a degree of momentum and confidence following its huge Regional Final win over Duke while rallying after the loss of their fallen teammate, Ware. I'm not suggesting the Cards are bulletproof. I am saying that I'll have to see them lose before I expect someone to beat them.

Advantage: Louisville

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1) Image from
2) Image cited in a prior Hat Trick posting.

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