Five final thoughts on the Louisville-Michigan NCAA championship game.
ATLANTA – Five final championship game thoughts, including a prediction:
*On Feb. 27 Michigan lost to Penn State, 84-78. I know that it was a bizzaro season in college basketball. I know it was one game. But Louisville does not have any hair-pulling losses like that on its resume, especially that close to the start of the NCAA Tournament. I watched that Penn State-Michigan game.
I cannot make the case that a team that lost to Penn State can win the national championship. That's my story – and I'm sticking with it.
*Louisville defeated Wichita State Saturday without getting a single point from two starters. That only happened one other time this season for the Cardinals – against Illinois State on Dec. 1 when Gorgui Dieng was out with a broken wrist. It won't happen again. Dieng will give the Cards close to a double-double tonight because Michigan is not strong around the basket, something Cody Zeller proved not once, but twice with 19 points and 10 rebounds the first time the Hoosiers beat Michigan and 25 and 10 the second time they did it.
*For all the talk about Louisville's full-court press and Michigan's ability to navigate the pressure, I don't believe those are the two things to watch Monday night. Rick Pitino has usually done an excellent job game-planning against post players. Michigan center Mitch McGary, not guard Trey Burke, has been the Wolverines' best player during this tournament.
Look for Louisville to be equally focused on stopping McGary and pushing Michigan's three-point shooters off the line. The Cards' will have a difficult time surviving a major differential from the three-point line. Stopping the three is a must.
*Great stat today from Dave Telep of ESPN.com. If Michigan wins the championship, the Wolverines will become only the second team in history to win a title without a single McDonald's all-American. The other team? Maryland, which won its championship 11 years ago in this building. In other words, talent usually prevails.
*Louisville 74, Michigan 71. Russ Smith is averaging 25 points per game in this tournament. He'll deliver one more spectacular night today and join Pervis Ellison (1986) and Darrell Griffith (1980) as Final Four Most Outstanding Players. Dieng will keep McGary under control. U of L will dog the young Michigan shooters.