Louisville Vs Michigan, ATLANTA-An in-depth position-by-position breakdown for Monday night’s national championship game between Louisville and Michigan.
Louisville: Peyton Siva
Siva’s greatest strengths-he’s a relentless defender, selfless leader and outstanding passer-fit perfectly with Louisville’s core philosophies. He often walks a fine line offensively, though. He can score when opportunities present themselves, but ideally he’s not the first, second, third or fourth option. In the semifinal, Wichita State went under screens on the perimeter virtually the entire game, practically daring Siva to shoot the basketball. He did, without much success. Siva finished 0-for-5 from 3-point range as part of his 1-for-9 shooting night.
Michigan: Trey Burke
He has not been the same player in the NCAA Tournament as during the regular season, and in some ways that has been a benefit. He is hitting just 25.8 percent of his 3-pointers, but when the Wolverines encountered difficulty before he often went into savior mode. Four of his five games of 20-plus shots were UM defeats. Struggling to get clear shots against the Syracuse zone, he relented and ran the team, making smart plays that helped to preserve the lead.
Louisville: Russ Smith
The 6-foot dynamo is riding the greatest offensive wave of his college career. Smith has scored at least 20 points in all five of Louisville’s NCAA Tournament victories, though he had to struggle to reach that mark against Wichita State. He was 6-for-17 from the field and 5-for-12 from the free-throw line, and had as many turnovers (five) as combined steals (two) and assists (three). At his best, Smith’s speed and energy is impossible for the defense to contain; at his worst, that speed and energy is impossible for him to contain.
Michigan: Tim Hardaway Jr.
Against the string of elite defenses the Wolverines have faced, Hardaway also has been a target and also has had trouble getting good shots. Against Kansas, Florida and Syracuse he was 5-of-18 on 3-pointers, although the three he made against the Orange were essential in building and protecting a cushion. Hardaway most likely will be guarded by a smaller player, such as All-American Russ Smith, and Smith is likely to crowd him. Hardaway will have to have the courage to drive the ball but the diligence to not allow Smith to take it from him as he goes.
Louisville: Wayne Blackshear
Blackshear (6-5) and Chane Behanan (6-6) are underrated parts of Louisville’s pressure defense. If opposing guards get the ball across midcourt against Siva and Smith, the sight of these two athletic wings rushing up to spring traps often leads to ill-advised decisions and turnovers. Blackshear hasn’t been much of an offensive threat in the postseason-he’s averaging 5.3 points in the Big East and NCAA Tournaments combined-but he’s very capable of scoring 10 to 14 opportunistic points.
Tim Hardaway Jr. is a key part of the Michigan offensive attack. (AP Photo)
Michigan: Nik Stauskas
Battling a headache issue in the Syracuse game, Stauskas had his fourth sub-par tournament game in five tries. Only against Florida, when he made 6-of-6 from 3-point range, did Stauskas shoot more like his normal self. In the other four games, he was 2-of-16. Stauskas will be matched against Luke Hancock and Wayne Blackshear when Louisville is playing man-to-man, which will mean his opportunities mostly will come when Burke forces help and finds Stauskas on the perimeter. “If he’s 0-for-18, I’m going to hit him, and I’ll get mad if he doesn’t shoot,” Burke said.
Louisville: Chane Behanan
The 6-foot-6 Behanan is Louisville’s most athletic player-his size/speed combo makes him a difficult matchup, regardless who he’s playing against. Behanan, who leads the Cardinals with 57 dunks this season, has an outstanding offensive rebounding percentage of 12.5 percent. Five of his team-high nine rebounds against Wichita State were on the offensive boards; they led to four extra points in a game Louisville won by four points.
Michigan: Glenn Robinson III
Late in the regular season, as teams took away his transition opportunities, Robinson faded from importance in the UM attack. He was immense in the Syracuse game, missing only two shots and scoring 10 points as he sneaked into the center of the zone to hit foul-line jumpers and grab offensive rebounds. His athleticism will make him a tough cover for Louisville’s Chane Behanan. If Robinson can punish that matchup periodically it might force Montrezl Harrell into more minutes; Harrell offers so much athletically but does not have as much impact as a low-post scorer.
Louisville: Gorgui Dieng
There are few centers in college basketball more versatile than Dieng. He’s a shot-altering defensive presence who is capable of stepping out and hitting jumpers or serving as a point guard in the post-witness his eight assists against Syracuse in the Big East Tournament championship game. That aggressive, assertive player didn’t play against Wichita State, though. The Cardinals need Dieng to control the paint and try to slow down red-hot Michigan freshman big man Mitch McGary.
Michigan: Mitch McGary
Those who saw McGary during his brief stretch as the Wolverines’ primary center in early February had the chance to recognize the breadth of his potential. He is enormous at 6-10, 255 pounds. He has terrific feet and remarkable athleticism for a player of his size. He catches most everything thrown his way, showed his passing skill with six assists against Syracuse and even can handle the ball if he’s given enough room to maneuver. He shoots the basketball with touch and plays with unending energy. What is there in this game he does not do well? He’ll have to do all of it against one of the college game’s elite defensive centers, Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng.
Louisville: Junior Luke Hancock was a star against Wichita State (20 points), but he’s not solely a 3-point shooter. He understands how to use his 6-foot-6 frame as a defender in Louisville’s full-court pressure, and he’s not afraid of attacking the rim when the matchup is favorable. Freshman big man Montrezl Harrell is going to be a star for Louisville next year; now, though, he brings copious amounts of talent and energy into the post. Tim Henderson excelled in his role as Kevin Ware’s replacement against Wichita State.
Michigan: Wing Caris LeVert was the important sub against Syracuse because his length bothered guard Michael Carter-Williams. He is not a shooter but has shown the gumption to make a shot or two on the biggest stage. The matchup against Louisville’s small guards might mean a greater role for backup point Spike Albrecht. He hit two 3-pointers in just four minutes of playing time Saturday but had much greater roles in the Florida and Kansas games. With former starter Jordan Morgan offering a sense of reliability off the bench and Jon Horford a more mobile option, the Wolverines now can rotate three big men and on occasion will use a bigger lineup to spell Robinson.
Tactic to watch
Louisville: Don’t expect Louisville to unleash an all-out full-court press against Michigan. Despite the perception, that’s not really the Cardinals’ style, and they also saw how well the Wolverines handled VCU’s all-out full-court press in their second NCAA Tournament game. Instead, watch for the Cardinals to spring traps near midcourt sporadically as a way to keep Michigan from getting comfortable in its offensive sets. Smith and Siva will apply their standard pressure of course, but Louisville will be careful not to allow Burke to counter-attack the pressure the way Wichita State did early against the Cardinals on Saturday.
Michigan: The Wolverines love to use Trey Burke in pick-and-roll situations, and McGary has given them a terrific option both because of his impact as a screener-when he hits you, you stay hit-and because is a threat to score or make an extra pass if Burke hits him rolling to the goal. It’s easy to picture the Wolverines trying to get Dieng trapped into the challenge of having to hedge out to contain Burke and then recover quickly to pick up McGary. Dieng can’t afford to sit back because Burke’s too dangerous as a shooter. Trapping a ball screen set for Burke is awfully risky because it means one of four terrific scorers on the floor with him almost certainly will be left wide open. How Louisville chooses to defend these situations might be the most important element of the game.