5 Questions and a Prediction for Tonight’s National Title Game
Will Michigan shoot as poorly as they did against Syracuse?
Now that we've gotten that out of the way, Michigan will need to shoot better tonight. Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Nick Stauskas (Michigan's three best shooters) shot a combined 5-29 from the field including 4-18 from three-point range on Saturday night despite shooting 45% from the field and 39.9% from three on the season. The Syracuse zone and their players’ physical dimensions played a part in Michigan's poor shooting, but Michigan still missed all kinds of open shots. Maybe it was nerves, or maybe it was the dome, but it has to improve tonight. Louisville's defense is too good to not take advantage of open shots.
Can Louisville’s guards score effectively?
Just like Michigan’s guards, Louisville’s struggled on Saturday. Not only did Russ Smith and Peyton Siva combine to shoot 7-26 from the field, but Smith, an 82% free throw shooter before the game, missed 7 of 12 foul shots. If not for Luke Hancock and unsung hero Tim Henderson, who never would’ve played had Kevin Ware been healthy, Louisville might be sitting at home tonight. Louisville has had success most of the year because their guards lead their team. They beat Duke because Duke’s backcourt couldn’t keep Louisville’s guards from getting into the paint. Michigan’s done a poor job playing defense this season, ranking 97th in the country in defensive efficiency. They did, however, hold Michael Carter-Williams to two points on Saturday, so we’ll see whether or not that’s a sign of things to come.
How will Michigan handle Louisville’s zone?
You knew this question was coming. Louisville’s press only created 10 turnovers against Wichita State, but its presence in the second half altered the pace of the game in their favor. Here’s the problem for them tonight: Michigan loves a fast pace and they don’t turn the ball over. Remember when Michigan handled VCU’s press at ease? They’ll do it again tonight. Louisville has a better defense outside of its full-court press, but the press is what helps them flip the switch. Without it they get less easy baskets, which is a cause for concern because their half-court offense is rather lame at times.
Will either team make their free throws?
Saturday night was embarrassing. Michigan went 11-20 from the line, including only making 2 of their last 6 free throws to keep Syracuse in the game. Louisville wasn’t much better, going 19-29 at the line. We already talked about Smith’s seven misses there. They also had trouble putting Wichita State away because they missed three of eight foul shots in the final minute including two of their best shooters each missing a foul shot in the final ten seconds. If not for a controversial jump-ball call, Wichita State would’ve had a shot to tie the game. This game’s going to be so close where neither team can afford to miss free throws. They’re “free” for a reason.
Who wins the game and covers the spread?
Hopefully for your sake you’ve been betting the picks I’ve been posting in these columns. I’ve been raking it in, so I want to share the wealth. (This makes up for my disastrous NFL season.) I’m 13-5 in tournament picks in the column so far and 2-1 on three additional ones posted on my Twitter account (follow along — @MrT_BroBible). That all means it’ll probably come to a grinding halt today now that I’m touting myself, but let’s hope not. I picked Louisville to win the tournament before it started, but that doesn’t mean I have to stick to that anymore. I’m going with Michigan tonight because of three reasons: 1) They’re going to handle that Louisville press with ease 2) They’ve generally been playing better basketball against tougher opponents than Louisville’s been playing against over the last three weeks and 3) They’ve got the best player on the floor in Trey Burke. I’ll take Michigan +4 over Louisville and also hit the Michigan +155 on the money line.
Michigan 68 Louisville 65