ATLANTA -- No. 1 overall seed of the NCAA tournament, the Louisville Cardinals, and the No. 4 seeded Michigan Wolverines are just hours from taking the floor at the Georgia Dome here in Atlanta to play for college basketball’s ultimate prize: the National Championship.
But spit the seeds out of this thing. Throw the records out. Michigan and Louisville, at their peak, have appeared to be the two best, or right near the top, teams that college basketball has to offer in the 2012-13 season.
Louisville, lead by coach Rick Pitino who’s attempting to win a second national championship as a head coach and become the first coach to do it at two different schools (Kentucky in 1996).
Michigan, back onto the national stage after a 20-year title game drought, now guided and taught by John Beilein, who in 35 years as a head coach, has never taken a team this far in the NCAA tournament.
Contrasting styles are certainly prevalent. Louisville will seemingly invent new pressure at any given time at any given area on the floor to force turnovers and get easy buckets. Michigan wants to turn people over too, getting stops in the half court and putting the ball in the hands of National Player of the Year, Trey Burke to make good decisions in transition.
The approach by Pitino and Beilein is markedly different, the makeup of each team is different, but they’re both looking for the same result -- be crowned champions. Here’s how either team gets it done Monday night:
Inside Louisville’s losses
The Cardinals haven’t lost a game since all the way back on February 9th in an overtime thriller against Notre Dame. Louisville dropped just four Big East conference games on their way to the league regular season championship and tournament championship.
In three of Louisville’s four conference losses, a pattern emerged. The Cardinals gave up 17-second chance points to Syracuse while the Orangemen shot a scolding hot 49-percent from the field. In the loss to Notre Dame the Irish manufactured 14-second chance points and shot 41.6-percent from the field. Georgetown, despite turning it over 17 times, came up with 13-second chance points while being held below the Cardinals season average of opponent field goal percentage (.392) at 38.8-percent. In their fourth loss to Villanova, the Wildcats shot 45.8-percent on field goal tries, turning it over 19 times but still coming up with the win.
In those four games alone Louisville forced no less than 16 turnovers but, excluding the Syracuse game in which they turned the ball over just nine times against the match-up zone, the Cardinals coughed it up 17 times to Villanova, 13 times to Georgetown, and 14 times to Notre Dame. Louisville averages just over 12 turnovers per contest.
And so far in the NCAA tournament, those turnovers have resulted in a lot of points. The Cardinals are averaging 19.4-points off turnovers in five tournament games.
Michigan’s tournament numbers
On the other end, Michigan’s key to success over the last five games can absolutely be attributed to the emergence of Mitch McGary and steady balance from the rest of the Wolverine’s starters. Looking even deeper, three key statistics stand out above the rest: points off turnovers, second chance points, and fast break points.
Michigan is averaging 15.4 points off turnovers in the NCAA tournament, exactly 12-second chance points per game, and 11.6 fast break points per game.
The Wolverines haven’t turned teams over nearly as much as Louisville over the last five games, opponents are giving it up just over 12 times per game while Michigan is staying steady at just over ten turnovers per game, slightly above their season average of 9.3.
Possibly the best statistic to look at in Michigan’s wins over Virginia Commonwealth and Florida is the amount of fast break points the Wolverines put up against full court and half court pressure defense: 15 fast break points against VCU who really tried to speed Michigan up, and 21 fast break points against a very sound defensive team in Florida.
Louisville will look to pressure Michigan all over the floor.
Key to the game
This game comes down to one thing: either the Louisville pressure crumbles Michigan and Trey Burke leading to easy buckets for the Cardinals and no offensive rhythm for the Wolverines or Michigan takes the pressure and attacks it right up the middle of the floor, similar to their tournament win over VCU. Louisville is at their best when turnovers are forced. Michigan is at their best when they can get out in transition, dunk, and get the crowd into it.
The formula to a championship.