CRAWFORD | Pregame talk -- How U of L wins a national championship
ATLANTA (WDRB) -- With one hour to play, how one completely overpaid, underqualified observer sees the national championship game between Louisville and Michigan.
This is always dicey after watching one team all season and the other only periodically. But here goes.
-- The worst thing that can happen in this game for U of L is for Michigan to get going from three-point range. The Wolverines are extremely talented 1 through 5, but their true potential to blow games open lies in their ability to get hot from the outside. They simply shot Florida into submission. There wasn't much else the Gators could do. Guarding the three-point line is job No. 1 for U of L. Burke may get loose on drives. They may give up a put-back or two. Michigan may get points in transition. But U of L can overcome any of that. What it doesn't want to overcome is someone burning it up from the outside.
-- U of L has been winning with offense in the tournament, and it is going to have a chance to win this game with offense. National observers have been saying that U of L needs to turn Michigan over to win. It didn't turn Duke over much. It won. It didn't turn Wichita State over. It won. Both of those teams were better defensive outfits than Michigan. U of L should be able to get into the lane and have more success in the paint than it did against Wichita State. In fact, attacking the paint will be a major indicator of how things will fare early for the Cardinals. If they can do it, they should be national champions. If they can't, they might be disappointed.
-- Hunch. The U of L frontcourt is sitting on a big game. Gorgui Dieng is coming off his worst game of the season. Chane Behanan has a bit of a different look in his eye. He called for the ball and delivered against Wichita State. Montrezl Harrell, if he just does what he has been doing, will help.
-- Trouble matchup for U of L: Tim Hardaway Jr. He's a 6-6 shooting guard who can light it up and has great athleticism. If Wayne Blackshear could make him work, it would help. Blackshear hasn't been playing particularly well in the tournament. Burke is the national player of the year. But Hardaway is a guy who could give the Cards major problems.
-- How U of L wins. It mixes its defense up just enough to force Michigan to be hesitant. The half-court in this game probably is more important than the full-court defense. It shoots 45 percent or better. This keeps Michigan out of too many transition opportunities. It gets a big offensive game from Dieng and/or Behanan. And it plays tough, physical Big East basketball inside. What it will do against Burke will be interesting. Having watched all of this team's postseason games, I can tell you that there are at least a half-dozen small, key individual scouting-related items that have determined them all in a big way. Not letting players go where they want to go, do what they want to do. There's an extremely high degree of confidence around this team that it has the winning plan before it ever goes onto the court.
-- It's hard to say how a team's maturity comes into play. Sometimes, it's even a small advantage to be younger. You haven't put in the years of climbing, the pressure is less. Michigan was the youngest team in this field. If it wins, it'll mean two years in a row that the youngest team in the field has won. U of L came one game from winning it all last season. Championship games are usually ugly. They are tense. It takes less to turn the momentum than in your normal games, and the momentum turns tend to be exaggerated.
U of L has a group that should play a smart game. It should play the better defense. And against a Michigan team that, good as it is offensively, doesn't guard as well as others U of L has beaten in this tournament, the Cardinals should have the right mix to win it.
Final: U of L 74, Michigan 68.
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