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By Andrew Kahn
Tonight, the No. 1 overall seed takes on a team once ranked No. 1 and now playing its best basketball. On one side is Louisville, the favorite when the field was announced, trying to keep the national championship trophy in the state of Kentucky. On the other is Michigan, riding a crop of underclassmen that rival the Fab Five. Louisville’s men will vie for the title on Monday night, and the women play in the title game on Tuesday.
Cards find a way
Peyton Siva was the preseason Big East Player of the Year, but has been inconsistent all season. Louisville has found ways to win when its point guard doesn’t play well. They beat Oregon in the Sweet 16 despite Siva tallying as many turnovers as points (four). He went 1-for-9 against Wichita but the Cards won again, 72-68, to reach the title game. A question Louisville fans would rather not see answered: Can Louisville beat Michigan if Siva struggles? He doesn’t need to outplay Trey Burke, but he can’t disappear either.
Reserves shine for Wolverines
Back-up point guard Spike Albrecht may have played the most impactful four minutes of the college basketball season on Saturday night. He nailed two contested three-pointers—one from outside the Georgia Dome—in the first half and helped Michigan handle Syracuse’s full-court press in the final minutes. Caris LeVert had played 15 minutes all tournament before logging 21 minutes against Syracuse. He hit 3 of his 4 shots (including two threes), grabbed four rebounds, and played solid defense in Michigan’s 61-56 win. Both Albrecht and LeVert are freshmen.
Shockers can’t withstand run
Wichita was able to hold off Ohio State’s furious rally in the final minutes of the regional final. Such was not the case on Saturday, as the Shockers lost their 12-point lead over the final 13 minutes and lost 72-68. Wichita’s hot three-point shooting went cold (6 for 20) and two Louisville reserves—Luke Hancock and Tim Henderson—drained huge threes during the run. A controversial jump-ball call that gave possession to Louisville in the final seconds didn’t help. While many of the high-profile jobs have already been filled, there is still speculation that Gregg Marshall may land somewhere else after this magical run.
Orange offense stalls
Fifteen seconds left, Syracuse down three. Brandon Triche had just fouled out, joining fellow backcourt starter Michael Carter-Williams on the bench. Who would Jim Boeheim turn to for a bucket? After a timeout, freshman reserve Trevor Cooney attempted a low-percentage shot that was rebounded by Michigan. Game over. The Orange overcame subpar offensive performances against California and Indiana, but couldn’t against Michigan. Due to graduation and potential early departures, offense will once again be a question mark for ’Cuse next year in the ACC.
Title game preview
Louisville opens as a small favorite against the young Wolverines. Louisville’s depth is definitely a concern; the fact that Tim Henderson was counted on to make baskets against Wichita is telling. While the Cardinals don’t rely on turnovers as much as VCU, a team Michigan dominated in the second round, they still like to play fast and turn defense into offense. Michigan protects the ball better than any team in the country. Power forward Chane Behanan is a tough matchup for most teams, but Glenn Robinson III is especially vulnerable in the paint. How he holds up will be a key to the game. Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng is taller than Mitch McGary, but McGary is stronger and playing with a lot of confidence. If he can get Dieng in foul trouble, it would open up more driving lanes for Michigan.
Andrew Kahn is a contributor to CBS Local who has written for ESPN the Magazine and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at http://andrewjkahn.com. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.