Neither team was at its’ best last night. I would go so far as to say neither team was even close but great teams find ways of over-coming poor performances. Both Louisville and Michigan advanced to the National Title game on Monday night with victories that were more reminiscent of their losses than their wins.
Louisville has for the most part, dominated their opposition throughout the tournament but found itself down by 12 with 13 minutes remaining. From that point on the Cards ran off a 21-8 stretch to take the lead which would then see-saw back and forth in the final six minutes before closing out the Shockers 72-68.
The story for the ‘Ville was the bench where sat in uniform, Kevin Ware who suffered the horrible broken leg last week in the regional final. He was just one part however because the other was Luke Hancock who came off the pine to score 20 points. It was Hancock’s huge play both during the run and in the final seconds that helped seal Wichita State’s fate.
This is Louisville’s first visit to the title game since 1986 when a freshman named Purvis Ellison led the Cards to a title over Duke. For Head Coach Rick Pitino, this will be an effort to secure his second national title and first with the Cards.
In the late game, Michigan led by 11 at halftime and then saw their lead erased by Syracuse through some clutch play by C.J. Fair and some unusual mistakes by the normally sound Wolverines. The final minutes of the game resembled Michigan’s late-season loss at home to Big Ten champion Indiana where the Wolverines blew a late lead by missing free throws and playing careless defense but they were able to survive last night.
If you would have told me before the game that Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas would be a combined 5 of 29 from the field I would suggest the Orange would win by ten or more but that wasn’t the case. Freshman Mitch McGary had just 10 points but also added 12 rebounds and six assists to add to his already growing legend in the tournament. Glenn Robinson III also chipped in ten points and had several key rebounds as well.
Michigan attacked Syracuse’s zone almost expertly in the first half using McGary at the high-post to distribute the ball but for whatever reason went away from that in the second half and relied more on outside shots that just weren’t falling. The national player of the year Burke, struggled and at times looked far less aggressive than he usually does in attacking the 2-3 zone.
In the end, Michigan survived poor free throw shooting and got a breakaway at the end to secure the 61-56 win which was John Beilein’s first in 10 attempts against a clearly pompous and dejected Jim Boeheim.
Final Four Thoughts… Obviously I’ll look ahead at the title game in tomorrow morning’s piece but I wanted to comment a little further on the semi-final games. First, I’ll toot my own horn as I nailed both games picking Michigan to win by four (spread was -2) and picking Louisville to win but not covering the 10.5 spread. I don’t get to do that too often (smiles).
College basketball and the game in general has to decide what it wants the game to be. It has become a no-win situation for officials in terms of calling offensive fouls especially. Basketball used to be a game of free-flowing action but it has turned into a wrestling match with all the clutching and grabbing and moving screens that go on every trip down the court. There were several calls in the final minutes of the late game that could have gone either way. Having more clearly defined foul calls would help both players and the officials.