When Michigan and Louisville square off today none of the players from the epic championship battle those two programs waged in 2013 will be on the floor. The coaches, however, are the same and so too are the staples of their attacks. In the Cardinals case that means a versatile and aggressive defense.
“You're always prepare for multiple defenses because they're going to come out, they're going to play full court pressure. Sometimes they're going to trap. Sometimes they're going to run and jump,” John Beilein said.
“They're going to play hard pressure, sometimes soft pressure. You're going to see some type of full court just soft stuff. And you're going to see a match-up zone, (then) 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.”
“Obviously they will come at you with pressure and with really good length and athleticism,” Michigan assistant Jeff Meyer added. “Their ’13 team had great speed in the backcourt. Both (Quentin) Snyder and Donovan Mitchell (this year) play a lot of minutes, but they’re more physical in their nature. Certainly the length at the rim is kind of a trademark of Pitino’s teams, which means you’re going to see pressure down the court. You’ve got to be prepared for not only man to man, but different kinds of zone defenses in the half court, and they do a good job of mixing it up.”
That Louisville is so multiple defensively and have so many lengthy athletes makes preparing for them on a one day turnaround even more daunting. It just so happens that 2013 isn’t the only time John Beilein faced such a challenge. The Elite Eight match-up between Louisville and Beilein’s West Virginia club still sticks out in Pitino’s mind. His Cardinals battled back from a 20-point deficit to win 93-85 in overtime.
“I'll never forget that game,” Pitino said. “Out of all the games I've ever coached, that one sticks out to me the most of any game I've ever coached because we were playing basically seven players. We never pressed. We never played man. We just played a two-three bumping zone… not even a matchup. Our seventh man, Otis George, had a stress fracture, so he didn't practice.”
“So as soon as we found out we were playing them, we knew we couldn't play them man-to-man. We had to play zone. If I remember correctly, they had 11 threes. We were down 20. We cut it to 12 or 13 right before the half. They made 11 threes. John's son made a three from the Lobo. And I went in at halftime, we had to walk up the ramp at the pit, and we moved all the chairs. And I said, guys, you're not going to believe this, we can't play them zone. We're going to get killed.”
“We moved all the chairs and went through the Princeton offense of back doors, running the guy into our chest. And we went out with one or two minutes on the clock, and we had a walk-through in the locker room. We played man-to-man for the first time that year, and we were lucky to win it in overtime.”
“But we could not play them zone. They just torched us in the way they shot the ball. So I agree… there's a lot of similarities to the way they shot it and the way this team shoots it.”
That makes the task of preparing for Michigan on a one day turnaround pretty daunting in its own right. Pitino, though, isn’t starting his cram session on the Wolverines from scratch. He is at least a little familiar with the Maize & Blue because of his son, Minnesota headman Richard Pitino.
“He's on his way in here, and I was actually at the Michigan/Minnesota game live where Minnesota won in overtime,” said Pitino. “Their power forward, center, two-guard, whatever they call him, made a shot from 15 feet behind the line to put it into overtime as if it was a layup.”
So I happen to know Michigan very well, and Richard said… you know… he gave me his thoughts on the game. And I said, ‘well, they've won 10 out of the last 12.’ And since the time I've seen them, they've gotten a lot more confident and a lot better. And I think it really stems from the play of their point guard.”
Derrick Walton’s stellar play and Michigan’s ability to put four players on the floor with him that can shoot from distance at a high clip has Pitino thinking twice about utilizing his customary defensive strategy.
“Shaka Smart tried to press Michigan at VCU (in 2013), and it didn't work too well,” said Pitino. “We didn't press too much in '13. We would change a little bit. We didn't press too much.
When you have a great shooting, passing team, pressing can be a big danger. We had to do it last night to beat Jacksonville State. But we're probably not going to press Michigan too much in this game.”
“Tell John that so he doesn't work on his press offense. (Laughter).”