MICHIGAN WOLVERINES (31-7)
vs. LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (34-5)
NCAA Tournament - National Championship
Georgia Dome - Atlanta, GA
Tip-off: Monday, 9:20 p.m. ET
Line: Louisville -4, Total: 138
The 2012-13 college basketball season concludes Monday night in Atlanta when the top-seeded team in the tournament, Louisville, takes on fourth-seeded Michigan in the National Championship game.
The Wolverines have come a long way after finishing the regular season 1-9 ATS (5-5 SU) and then losing to Wisconsin in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. In the NCAA Tournament, they have beaten their five opponents by an average score of 75 to 62, including three wins of 15+ points. With Saturday night's 61-56 win over Syracuse, the Wolverines are now 9-1 (SU and ATS) on a neutral court this season, outscoring these teams by 10.9 PPG. Louisville is also red-hot, but had a major scare on Saturday when it trailed by 12 points in the second half to Wichita State, a game it eventually won 72-68. The Cardinals have now won 15 straight games (11-4 ATS) by holding all 15 opponents to under 70 points, including limiting 10 of those opponents below 60 points. Louisville is also 19-1 SU (17-2-1 ATS) in their past 20 games in the month of March over the past two seasons, and 11-1 SU (8-4 ATS) on a neutral court this season, outscoring its opponents by 15.4 PPG.
Who will be crowned as the national champions on Monday night? For the answer, connect to 2013 NCAA Tourney Picks for all the Expert picks. The experts picked Louisville as a 5-star Best Bet in the Elite Eight, and the Cardinals came through in a big way, beating 4-point underdog Duke by 22 points. That put the experts at a profitable 60% ATS over their past five 5-star selections. The experts were +4.4 Units in the Elite Eight and Final Four combined, correctly picking Michigan to win and cover versus Syracuse on Saturday night.
Michigan might be only a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but there isn't much the team doesn't excel in. In addition to their 75.2 PPG (25th in nation), 48.3% FG (7th in D-I) and 38.3% threes (20th in nation), the Wolverines have the fewest amount of turnovers in the country (9.4 TOPG). They also lead the nation in Ast/TO ratio (1.55) and rebound pretty well too with a +3.2 RPG margin. They will need to do all these things well to beat a Louisville team that thrives on forcing bad shots and creating turnovers with its incredible defense. Michigan's defense is solid (62.8 PPG, 42.3% FG, 32.1% threes allowed) and is able to stay out of foul trouble (12.7 fouls per game, 2nd-fewest in D-I), by preferring not to take many chances in trying to force turnovers, as evidenced by a mere 2.8 BPG and 6.2 SPG, which rank 244th and 230th in the nation, respectively. The Wolverines' backcourt of sophomore PG Trey Burke (18.5 PPG) and junior SG Tim Hardaway Jr. (14.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG) has carried this team all season, but the duo shot a combined 5-of-24 from the floor (4-of-14 threes) against Syracuse. But Burke, who had five rebounds, three steals, four assists and just one turnover on Saturday, has a 3.13 Ast/TO ratio that ranks third in the country, and his 6.8 APG places 12th among the nation's leaders. Burke can also score in bunches, averaging 13.8 PPG in the NCAA Tournament with three games of 15+ points. Hardaway has shot a high percentage from behind the arc this season (38%), but is just 5-of-18 (28%) from long range and 11-for-40 (28%) on all FG attempts over the past three games. Michigan has become much more than a two-man team recently. Six-foot-10 freshman PF Mitch McGary (7.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG) has been unbelievable in the NCAA Tournament, averaging 16.0 PPG on 70% FG with 11.6 RPG and 2.2 SPG. He also had a career-best six assists to go along with 10 points, 12 boards and two blocks in Saturday's win. Fellow freshman PF Glenn Robinson III (10.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG) played poorly in the Big Ten Tournament (6.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG), but he has certainly stepped up in the NCAA's with 12.8 PPG on a robust 64% FG with 6.2 RPG. He was one of three Michigan players to score in double-figures in the Final Four win with 10 points and six rebounds (five offensive). Another freshman, SF Nik Stauskas (11.5 PPG, 3.1 RPG) is the team's best three-point shooter at 44% for the season, but he was 0-for-5 FG (0-for-4 threes) on Saturday. This was quite surprising considering he drained 7-of-8 shots (6-of-6 threes) for 22 points against Florida in the Elite Eight. With Stauskas struggling on Saturday, two reserves played key roles for the Wolverines. Freshman Caris LeVert (2.4 PPG, 31% threes) scored eight points with 2-of-3 threes against Syracuse, while another freshman, SG Spike Albrecht (1.8 PPG, 50% threes), made the most of his four minutes by nailing both of his three-point attempts.
Louisville ranks fourth in the nation in scoring margin (+15.9 PPG) with 74.3 PPG of offense (32nd in nation) and 58.3 PPG allowed on defense (17th in D-I). The Cards outshoot opponents 45.6% FG to 39.2% FG (27th in nation), but they do not rely on the three-point shot like most Rick Pitino-coached teams do. Louisville makes just 5.7 threes per game (219th in D-I) on a subpar 32.9% clip (214th in nation). This team thrives on full-court pressure, using 10.8 steals per game (2nd in D-I) as part of 18.4 forced turnovers (also 2nd-most in nation) to get plenty of easy baskets. This defense has forced 16.4 TOPG in the NCAA's, which is a big reason why the team is scoring a hefty 79.0 PPG on 53.2% FG in the Big Dance. Nobody has been scoring quite like SG Russ Smith (18.9 PPG, 3.4 RPG), who is averaging 25.0 PPG on 50% FG in the NCAA Tournament. He's gotten a ton of points by driving to the hoop and drawing fouls, but after starting the tourney 32-for-40 (80%) from the line, he made just 5-of-12 free throws (42%) on Saturday. Smith has also tallied 15 steals in the five wins, to increase his season average to 2.1 SPG. Senior PG Peyton Siva (9.8 PPG, 5.7 APG, 2.2 SPG) was outstanding in the Elite Eight against Duke when he scored 16 points (6-of-10 FG) with four assists and zero turnovers in 33 minutes, but he was terrible on Saturday, making just 1-of-9 shots (0-for-5 threes) for seven points, three assists and two turnovers. Luckily for Siva, junior swingman Luke Hancock (7.7 PPG) was the best player on the court in Saturday's win. He scored 20 points on 6-of-9 FG (3-of-5 threes) while adding four rebounds and two steals. After averaging just 5.7 PPG in the first three games of the NCAA's, Hancock has 15.0 PPG on 8-of-12 FG over the past two contests. C Gorgui Dieng (9.8 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 2.5 BPG) was averaging 11.0 PPG on 20-of-24 FG (83%), 7.5 RPG and 2.5 BPG in the first four games of the NCAA Tournament, but did very little in 30 foul-plagued minutes with zero points (0-for-1 FG), six rebounds and two blocks in 30 minutes. His only problem has been foul shooting, where he's made just 2-of-10 FT in the past two games. Freshman PF Montrezl Harrell (5.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG) provided quite a spark off the bench on Saturday with eight points (4-of-4 FG) and four rebounds in 11 minutes. Little-used SG Tim Henderson (0.8 PPG in 3.8 MPG) also hit two key three pointers to ignite the game-ending 37-21 run. This team also rallied against Duke in the Elite Eight after sophomore SG Kevin Ware (4.5 PPG) suffered a horrific broken leg late in the first half, beating the Blue Devils 50-31 after halftime, and are using Ware's misfortune as further motivation to capture their first NCAA Championship since 1986. Michigan's lone NCAA title came in 1989.