Louisville vs. Michigan in 2013 NCAA Championship

trey-burke-michiganJust a couple of hours ago, the Michigan Wolverines were able to hold off the scrappy Syracuse Orange to advance to their first NCAA title game since 1993. Interestingly enough, the ’93 title appearance no longer counts due to violations associated with former Michigan booster Ed Martin.

The Wolverine’s opponent in the 2013 NCAA Championship game will be the Louisville Cardinals, which advanced after surviving a tough 72-68 contest over the Wichita State Shockers. For Louisville, this will be their first title game since 1986, when Pervis Ellison led them to victory.

rick-pitinoSeeing as how neither of these teams have experienced a title game within the last two decades, it’ll definitely be interesting to see who ends the drought. Of course, if coaching experience has anything to do with the matter, the Cardinals definitely have an advantage in this department. Louisville coach Rick Pitino has been to six Final Fours with three different teams, and he guided the 1996 Kentucky Wildcats to the national championship. That said, if anybody can prepare Louisville for the title game, it’s Pitino.

Of course, this isn’t to say that Michigan coach Jim Beilein is chopped liver though. He’s guided teams to a collective eight NCAA tournament appearances, including an Elite Eight trip for the 2005 West Virginia Mountaineers.

This isn’t a game that’ll solely be won or lost based on coaching resumes though. Star players are going to shine in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, which makes it worth discussing some players to keep an eye on in this contest.

Michigan Wolverines to watch

Trey Burke (18.8 PPG, 6.8 APG) didn’t exactly have an outstanding game against the Orange after shooting 1-for-8 and scoring 7 points. However, the Wolverines wouldn’t be here if not for the super sophomore, who scored 23 second-half points against Kansas in the Sweet 16 – including a sensational 28-footer to tie the game in regulation. Likely a future NBA lottery pick, Burke will get another chance to improve his stock with an outstanding title game.

tim-hardaway-jrTim Hardaway Jr. (14.6 PPG) is another player who’ll be looking to shoot better after going 4-for-16 against Syracuse. The junior did hit three 3-pointers and dish out a team-high five assists though and should bounce back against Louisville.

Great shooting was not exactly a theme for Michigan last night since Nik Stauskas (11.5 PPG, 44.9 3P%) also went 0-for-5. He only played 18 minutes total, and backup Caris LeVert stole a lot of his minutes.

First-year player Glenn Robinson III (11.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG) looked anything but a freshman in his first Final Four. He connected on 5 out of 7 field goal attempts and added five offensive rebounds for the Wolverines. It’ll be interesting to see if he can keep this same poise in the championship.

Mitch McGary (7.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG) is another freshman who’s done well under the pressure. In fact, McGary has thrived in the NCAA tournament since he’s averaged 16.0 and 11.6 RPG – way up from his season averages. But can he keep this production up against Louisville’s 6’11” stud Gorgui Dieng?

russ-smith-louisvilleLouisville Cardinals to watch for

One of the best guards in the country, Russ Smith has definitely proved this in the Cardinals championship game run. He’s averaged 25 PPG in the NCAA tournament and hasn’t scored less than 21 points in any of the five games. But he’ll have to do better than his 6-for-17 shooting performance against Wichita State if he hopes to lead Louisville to victory one more time.

Lucky for Smith, junior G/F Luke Hancock hit 6 out of 9 of his shots and scored 20 points off the bench. He was a big part of helping Louisville overcome a 12-point second half deficit to Wichita State and could play another huge role in the title game.

gorgui-diengInterestingly enough, star center Gorgui Dieng (10.2 PPG, 9.5 RPG) was a non-factor in this contest. In 30 minutes of play, he took one shot and missed it, while chipping in six rebounds and two blocks. The Cardinals HAVE to get more production out of him against Michigan.

Sophomore forward Chane Behanan (9.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG) was pretty steady in last night’s contest – as he’s been throughout the tournament. Behanan scored 10 points on 3-for-5 shooting and pulled down nine rebounds.

Who will win the 2013 NCAA Championship?

When the NCAA tournament started, many picked Michigan to be an early upset because of their obvious youth. However, the three starting freshman have been quite mature up to this point, and sophomore Trey Burke has played like a seasoned senior.

Of course, they’ll face the ultimate test in Louisville since the Cardinals have a lineup full of sophomores, juniors and seniors. And this experience should do them well against a very young Michigan squad. Rush Smith should especially give the Wolverines fits, as he’s done to most other opponents.

But in the end, Michigan will have too many weapons for the Cardinals to deal with. McGary and Dieng will cancel each other out in the middle, while Burke, Hardaway Jr., Stauskas and Robinson III will overwhelm the rest of Louisville’s lineup.

Final Score: Michigan 76 – Louisville 68

College Basketball Power Rankings for Jan. 14th, 2013

Now that conference play has opened up throughout college basketball, many of the top teams have found the competition a little tougher. In fact, there are no longer any unbeaten teams left following Duke’s upset loss to NC State. And the Blue Devils weren’t the only high-ranked team to lose recently since a few other clubs were dealt their first loss as well. Following the recent shakeup, here’s a look at who’s sitting where in our power rankings.

1. Louisville Cardinals (15-1) – Louisville was ranked number four in our last power rankings, but they move up to the top spot following losses by three teams ahead of them. Junior guard Russ Smith (18.9 PPG) has led this club to recent victories over Kentucky, Providence, Seton Hall and South Florida. A couple of tough games loom ahead with Connecticut on the road and Syracuse at home.

2. Duke Blue Devils (15-1) – Following 15 wins to open the regular season, Duke finally dropped a road game against NC State. However, this eight point loss certainly doesn’t erase previous wins over Louisville, Kentucky, Wake Forest and Ohio State. Five Blue Devils are averaging double digits right now, led by senior Mason Plumlee (17.6 PPG, 11.4 RPG).

3. Indiana Hoosiers (15-1) – The Hoosiers continue to play well after a loss to in-state rival Butler last month. Their most recent conquest includes hanging the first loss on eighth-ranked Minnesota. Plenty of landmines await in the Big Ten schedule, but the prospects look good for Indiana to win their conference. G Victor Oladipo (13.8 PPG) continues to be lights out from the perimeter for Indiana (68.3 2P%, 48.0 3P%).

4. Kansas Jayhawks (14-1) – A three-point loss to Michigan State on November 13th represents the lone blemish on Kansas’ schedule. The only thing holding the Jayhawks back from a better ranking is that their lone impressive win remains beating Ohio State. Freshman G Ben McLemore has stepped up to lead this team with 16.4 PPG.

5. Michigan Wolverines (16-1) – After opening Big Ten play up with three wins, Michigan dropped a road game against Ohio State. Unfortunately, things won’t get any easier as the Wolverines travel to Minnesota this Thursday. Both Trey Burke (18 PPG) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (16.1 PPG) had off games against OSU, and they’ll look to get back on track against the Gophers.

6. Arizona Wildcats (15-1) – Arizona represents yet another top team that received its first loss in January. They dropped a four-point game on the road to a respectable 14-2 Oregon ball club. The Wildcats have another difficult upcoming game as they travel to face in-state rival Arizona State (14-3). This team does have the advantage of a hot Mark Lyons though (18.3 PPG over past four games).

7. Syracuse Orange (16-1) – While the Orange sit seventh in our power rankings now, they have an excellent chance to move up with a win at number one Louisville. Sophomore G Michael Carter-Williams had done a great job of finding teammates all season (9.4 APG), and he’ll look to tally plenty more assists against the Cardinals this Saturday.

8. Gonzaga Bulldogs (16-1) – Since losing to Illinois on December 8th, the Bulldogs have now rattled off seven straight wins – including a road victory over former #22 Oklahoma State. Looking ahead, the Zags have a very intriguing road game against 13th-ranked Butler this Saturday. Junior C Kelly Olynyk (18.7 PPG) is a huge reason why Gonzaga should win this tough contest.

9. Creighton Bluejays (16-1) – Looking at Creighton’s remaining schedule, it’s certainly not improbable that they could finish as a one-loss team heading into March Madness. Of course, going undefeated in conference play is a tall order for any club. Some of the quality victories for this team include wins over Wisconsin, Arizona State, Nebraska and California. Junior F Doug McDermott (23.6 PPG) is a strong favorite to win the Missouri Valley Conference player of the year award.

10. Minnesota Golden Gophers (15-2) – While Minnesota may have two losses on the year, dropping games to Duke and Indiana are nothing to be ashamed of. And so far, the Golden Gophers have tallied victories against Memphis, USC, Michigan State and Illinois. G Andre Hollins has really stepped up in his second year to lead this team with 14.4 PPG.

College Basketball Power Rankings for Nov. 10th, 2012

On the eve of a new college basketball season, there is no unanimous number one team. However, the Indiana Hoosiers come the closest to being a preseason favorite since they’ve grabbed 43 of a possible 65 first place votes. But Louisville and Kentucky are also highly-rated coming into the 2012-2013 NCAA basketball season. Plus there are several other teams worthy of national title consideration, as you’ll see in our first college basketball power rankings.

1. Louisville Cardinals – Following a Final Four run, the Louisville Cardinals are back with a strong returning group of Peyton Siva, Russ Smith, Wayne Blackshear, Chane Behanan and Gorgui Dieng. With so much returning and some new faces in Montrezl Harrell and Luke Hancock, the Cardinals look poised to make anoher deep tournament run this year.

2. Indiana Hoosiers – The Hoosiers are coming off a Sweet 16 appearance and big regular season win over Kentucky last year. With Christian Watford and Cody Zeller returning to dominate the paint for Indiana, big things are expected in the upcoming season.

3. North Carolina State – Often a middle-of-the-pack ACC team, the Wolfpack should be leading college basketball’s most prestigious conference this year since they return both C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown.

4. Kentucky Wildcats – The Wildcats added an eighth championship to their decorated basketball history after a 67-59 title game win over the Kansas Jayhawks. Unfortunately, they lose a massive amount of talent, including Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis. Coach John Callipari had no trouble reloading though after picking up top-flight recruit Nerlens Noel.

5. Ohio State Buckeyes – Ohio State has big shoes to fill after losing  Jared Sullinger and William Buford. However, Deshaun Thomas looks poised to break out this season while Aaron Craft should provide some steady leadership at both ends of the court.

6. Kansas Jayhawks – Few people expected the Jayhawks to make it all the way to the NCAA title game. Now championship expectations are there since veterans Jeff Withey and Elijah Johnson will combine with super freshmen Perry Ellis and Ben McLemore.

7. Michigan Wolverines – Following a disappointing second round exit in the NCAA tournament, Michigan returns with a strong nucleus that includes Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Some of the incoming class could provide immediate help as well.

8. Syracuse Orange – Syracuse may have lost some key players, but they still figure to be a powerhouse with Brandon Triche, C.J. Fair, Michael Carter-Williams and James Southerland returning.

9. Florida Gators – The loss of Bradley Beal to the NBA is no doubt a huge blow to Florida. However, Patric Young is one of the best centers in college basketball and Kenny Boynton will certainly help ease the loss of Beal.

10. Duke Blue Devils – Maybe this isn’t Coach K’s best Duke team to open the season. But we certainly see a potential top 10 club with Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Tyler Thornton returning as starters.