ATLANTA (AP) — Monday night’s NCAA championship pairs up two teams aren’t exactly mirror images of each other, but they sure aren’t opposites either.
Louisville, which held up its mantle as the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed, will take on Michigan, a No. 4 seed that knocked off the likes of Kansas, Florida and Syracuse on its way to the title game.
Both teams rely heavily on their backcourts and one guard in particular. Michigan’s Trey Burke was The Associated Press’ player of the year and though his scoring has been down in the tournament, he still directs the offense. Louisville’s Russ Smith has been dominating the Cardinals’ scoring and is the player who keeps the crowd on the edge of their seats with one “Russdiculous” move after another.
Both teams have impressive frontcourts and though it’s a different style, both rely on their defense to get their offense going.
A look at the teams who will play for the national title, a prize neither school has brought home since the late 1980s.
Michigan comes at you with a young team that feeds off Burke, its leader. If there is a knock on the sophomore it’s his inconsistency from game to game. In the five tournament games he has ranged from six points to 23 and those all came in the second half and overtime in the win over top-seeded Kansas. He has not shot better than 50 percent in any game and was 1 for 8 from the field against Syracuse. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas have kept up the scoring when Burke doesn’t and a big surprise was the solid minutes from freshman Caris LeVert in the semifinal.
Smith and Peyton Siva dominate the minutes for the Cardinals in the backcourt and they are the core of the pressure defense that wears down opponents. They do force turnovers throughout the game but it’s the relentless pressure that changes the way teams play in the final minutes. Wichita State only committed 11 turnovers but the bulk of those came in the final minutes. Smith is averaging 25.0 points in the tournament and he has 15 steals in the five games. Siva has been struggling with his shot — 1 for 12 from 3-point range in the tournament — but he is still averaging 8.6 points and leads the team with 23 assists. Losing Kevin Ware to the broken leg against Duke has taken away a big part of the pressure defense.