Louisville vs. Michigan: Tracking their path to No. 1

USA TODAY Sports

Michigan and Louisville both earned the No. 1 ranking at some point in the year, but both followed it up with stretches of poor play. Now, they face off for the national title.

Either Louisville or Michigan will be the national champion after Monday night's matchup. But it's worth noting that neither squad ever firmly gripped the No. 1 ranking during the season -- each worked their way to the top of the AP Poll, but both were bounced after just a week.

Here's a look at each team's AP rankings as the year went on (click to embiggen):

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Each team rose to No. 1, and then immediately followed it up with a rough patch. Louisville got to the top of the rankings, then lost to Syracuse, Villanova, and Georgetown in three straight games. Each loss was somewhat reasonable -- Syracuse ended up being a Final Four team, Georgetown was a two-seed, and Villanova was capable of knocking off anybody in the country when they shot well -- but at the time, it seemed like the wheels had fallen off.

Michigan was set up for dominance as they played what looked like the game of the season -- the No. 1 Wolverines went into Bloomington to play the No. 3 Hoosiers. They dropped that one, and although they followed it up with an overtime win against Ohio State on the strength of ridiculous shooting by Tim Hardaway, they lost to Wisconsin after Ben Brust nailed a half-court buzzer beater to force overtime. In the next game, Michigan State blew the doors off the Wolverines in a intrastate affair. Like Louisville, Michigan seemed rudderless -- and that's not even taking into account a loss to Penn State, who was winless in conference play at the time.

Both squads started out in the top 5, with Louisville coming off a Final Four year and Michigan loaded with talent. Louisville was the first to lose, falling to Duke in the Battle for Atlantis -- a game that turned out to be a preview of the Elite Eight. Ten weeks into the year, Michigan was undefeated, but they missed an opportunity to become the top team in the country when they lost at Ohio State during the same weekend then-No. 1 Duke lost its first game. Louisville leapfrogged them but lost a huge game with Syracuse. Michigan reached No. 1, but then came the losing patch. Soon, Michigan hit their lowest AP ranking of the season at No. 7, while Louisville fell out of the top 10.

After winning the Big East Tournament, Louisville earned the top overall seed for the big dance, but Michigan had a rough finish to the year: they lost for the second time to Indiana in their season finale, dropping to the fifth in the Big Ten's final standings, then lost in the second round of the conference tournament to Wisconsin. But a hot streak in the tourney has carried them to this game and given them a chance to win the title.

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