Tonight, Louisville will play Michigan in the 2013 NCAA Basketball Championship game. Nobody at Drive and Dish is a gambler, so we haven't checked the Las Vegas lines for tonight's game. But we're reasonably certain that Louisville is the heavy favorite.
Drive and Dish didn't fare so well in predicting the Final Four in our 2013 NCAA Tournament bracket. To our credit, we correctly anticipated Syracuse's surprising (at least to the "experts") upset of Indiana en route to the Final Four. But we expected Duke to get to Atlanta instead of Louisville, and expected Ohio State to get there instead of Wichita State.
We actually weren't terribly surprised by Wichita State's surprising Final Four run. We've been paying attention to the Missouri Valley conference for a long time, and we've long been aware that head coach Gregg Marshall and his Wichita program are top notch. Of course, we didn't pick them to get to the Final Four in our bracket, but we definitely considered them to be a team that could make a deep Tournament run.
We picked Kansas to win the Championship, and of course, they lost in overtime to Michigan in the Elite Eight. When filling out our bracket, we tried to anticipate how each team would match up against each other. We thought that Michigan was the real deal, but we expected Kansas to cause match up problems for the Wolverines.
And we weren't wrong. Kansas did give Michigan all kinds of problems. In fact, Michigan had to put together a herculean comeback effort just to tie Kansas at the end of regulation (which they with a dramatic buzzer-beating three pointer courtesy of Trey Burke).
Kansas did everything in the book to beat Michigan, but in the end, they got upended by a performance for the ages by Burke -- the eventual college basketball player of the year.
So what do we expect to see in tonight's Championship game?
We expect a very close game that goes down to the wire. Neither team is clearly superior to the other. They're both extremely well coached, they've both got size, and they're both loaded with talent and depth.
Louisville has four players who will be on NBA rosters in the near future: Peyton Siva, Russ Smith, Chane Behanan and Gorgui Dieng. But Michigan has three players who are clearly certain to be future NBA first round draft picks: Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Mitch McGary.
Louisville will apply full court pressure defense on Michigan for the entire 40 minutes of regulation, and when they have the ball, their lightning-quick guards will relentlessly attack the lane, drawing Michigan defenders in and creating easy layups and dunks for the Cardinals' big men, and open three pointers for perimeter players off of kick outs. All Rick Pitino coached teams do those things.
But Michigan has an electric offense as well. If Burke can break down Louisville's tough defenders, it will open up good looks from the three point line for Michigan's talented three point bombers.
The "X" factor for Michigan will be freshman big man McGary. If McGary can establish himself from inside and out on offense early, it will force the shot blocking Dieng to focus on trying to stop McGary, and draw him away from swatting other Michigan players' shots. Perhaps more importantly, if McGary and Michigan's big men can get Dieng into foul trouble, the lane will open up for Michigan.
And since we expect tonight's game to be so close, we think that it will probably turn on fouls. The team that gets in foul trouble first will probably be the team that comes up short.
We think these teams are so closely matched, that neither team will get much more than a 4-6 point lead. Thus, fouls will be critical. The team that loses players to foul trouble first will probably lose. Concurrently, the first team that gets to shoot foul shots in the bonus will probably win.
Drive and Dish is usually pretty certain about who we expect to win, but we think this one will be so close that it could go either way. Louisville probably should win, but we think Michigan has the guns to bring home the Big Ten's first Championship since 2000.
We'll go out on a limb and take Michigan ... with the caveat that Michigan will be massively screwed if either Burke or McGary finds himself in foul trouble early. If that happens, Louisville will be too much for Michigan, and Rick Pitino will have coached his second school to an NCAA Championship (Pitino won an NCAA Championship at Kentucky in 1996).