As Louisville and Michigan prepare to face each other on Sunday afternoon at Indianapolis' Banker's Life Fieldhouse, flashbacks to prior meetings between Rick Pitino and John Beilein coached teams bounce through the minds of college basketball pundits and fans alike.
The pair have met a number of times during Pitino's Louisville tenure. While they coached against each twice as Big East rivals while Beilein guided West Virginia, the two most memorable meetings came in 2005, a season prior to the Cardinals joining the league, and most notably in 2013 when U of L met Beilein's Michigan Wolverines in the 2013 NCAA Championship.
"I don't know how many times, but we've always had bizarre games," Pitino said in reference to the prior meetings against Beilein-coached teams.
The two split their Big East meetings, including a thrilling Big East tournament quarterfinals contest won by the Cardinals, but those two get eclipsed by a 2005 meeting in the Elite and the 2013 title game. In 2005, the Cardinals erased a 20-point deficit to edge the Mountaineers to advance to the Final Four, while in 2013, U of L overcame a 12-point first half deficit to win the program's third NCAA title.
While comparisons to those prior teams can be made - the Cardinals pressing defense and the Wolverines three-point shooting - these squads have formed their own unique identities.
Those Louisville teams had experience on their side, this year's U of L team is fairly new to the vibe of an NCAA tournament. Those Beilein teams were considered to be strong contenders for a run at the national title, while this year's Wolverine's needed an unexpected late-season run just to make the NCAA postseason.
Michigan's improbable run began following a scare on a Detroit runway. The plane that was scheduled to take them to the Big Ten Conference tournament abandoned takeoff at the last moment and skidded from the end of the runway. Shaken from that moment, the Wolverine's have been anything but since. They have used a hot-shooting offense to win four straight games and claim the conference tournament title and used that run to catapult that momentum into the NCAA tournament where they connected on 16-of-29 beyond the three-point arc to outlast Oklahoma State in a 92-91 opening-round win on Friday.
The Cardinals will need to play well on both ends of the court to hold off one of the nation's hottest teams.
"They have all the ingredients that add up to great runs," Pitino said on Saturday. "They shoot well from the foul line. They shoot well from the field. They're a much-improved defensive team as the season's gone on. They're extremely well coached at the fundamentals of the game, and then they have as tough a point guard as there is in the college game from a mental standpoint."
Preparing to slow Michigan has been limited and will prove difficult. Despite facing the nation's most-challening schedule this season, Pitino warns that Michigan provides an unique look for his team.
"There's nobody similar this year, and we had the number one schedule in the nation that I can say plays like Michigan," he said. "You have to beat them, because if you put them to the line, they're going to make their free throws. If you give them open looks, they're going to make their 3s. If you overplay them, they're going to go back door."
Louisville, which is seeking to reach its 22nd Sweet 16 and fifth in the last six years, is expected to use defense to fuel its offense against the Wolverines. The Cardinals have proven difficult to shoot the long-ball against for much of the season, limiting opponents to just 31.6 percent from beyond the arc.
"They're going to play hard pressure, sometimes soft pressure," Michigan head coach John Beilein said. "You're going to see some type of full court just soft stuff. And you're going to see a matchup zone, regular zone. You're going to see regular man-to-man, switching man-to-man. We've seen all those things. In a one-day prep, it's hard. It's hard for both teams."
If history does indeed repeat, expect the bizarre to surface once again.
Tip-off is scheduled for 12:10 pm, with CBS carrying the broadcast.