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Louisville vs. Michigan: Well-rounded Cardinals pose threat to Wolverines

Louisville's elite defense may be the best in the nation, but it's their efficient offense that could pose the most problems for Michigan.

Andy Lyons

The Louisville Cardinals are the nation's top-ranked team by nearly every rating system. They earned the top overall seed by the NCAA Tournament selection committee heading into the Big Dance, finished the season ranked No. 1 in the Basketball Power Index and sit atop Ken Pomeroy's college basketball ratings.

Louisville brings the No. 1 ranked defense and a top-five offense, according to Pomeroy's rankings, into its meeting with the Michigan Wolverines in the national championship game Monday. The Cardinals have an adjusted defensive rating of 82.4, which is more than a full point better than Wisconsin, the second-ranked team. Offensively, the Cardinals are just as efficient, with a rating of 118.0.

Michigan, which ranks No. 5 overall according to Pomeroy, has the country's best offense, with an adjusted offensive rating of 121.7. The Wolverines' defense stacks up well compared to the rest of the teams in the nation, coming in at No. 32 with a rating of 91.6, but the unit doesn't hold a candle to Louisville's, which presses better than any other team in the land.

More on the game: Card Chronicle Maize n Brew

But that doesn't mean the Wolverines' offense doesn't have a shot at breaking through against the Cardinals' defense. Michigan has won tournament games over three of the top six defensive squads, and beat two others that rank in the top 10 during the regular season. Wichita State, which nearly pulled off the upset against Louisville on Saturday, hung with the Cardinals by winning the rebounding battle and getting to the free throw line, two areas where Michigan has the ability to get the upper hand.

The Wolverines have attempted more free throws than their opponents in four out of five tournament games. Of course, they'll need to shoot more like they did against VCU (90.9 percent) than they did against Kansas and Syracuse (less than 60 percent) for that to matter. Michigan also boasts the best rebounder in the tournament in Mitch McGary, who has grabbed 58 total boards, good for an average on 11.6 per game.

Michigan has better scorers than Wichita State does, as well. Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas are all legitimate deep threats, and McGary has improved his offensive game drastically in the tournament, raising his per-game scoring average from 6.2 in the regular season to 16.0 in the Big Dance.

The larger issue, perhaps, is whether or not Michigan's defense will be able to contain Louisville's offense. Michigan has played four games against top-10 offensive teams. It beat NC State and Florida, holding both schools beneath their season scoring averages, but dropped a pair of games to Indiana. However, the Wolverines have stepped up their defense in the tournament, holding four of their five opponents to fewer than 60 points.

Louisville has only faced one top-10 offensive team this season, splitting a pair of games against Duke. Despite losing to the Blue Devils in November, the Cardinals held them under their season scoring average. Louisville righted the ship in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, earning an 85-63 victory while holding Duke to a 36.5-percent shooting performance.

The Cardinals have played 13 games against teams with a higher adjusted defensive rating than Michigan, and went 9-4 in those contests. Since losing to Georgetown on Jan. 26, Louisville is 8-0 in such games, eclipsing its opponents' average points allowed per game mark six times.

Much like Michigan's McGary, Russ Smith has stepped up his game in the NCAA Tournament, scoring 25 points per contest. Unlike McGary, Smith had already proven himself as a scorer, averaging 18.9 points per game for the season. Gorgui Dieng provides a presence that could negate McGary's. He averages nearly a double-double per game while blocking 2.5 shots each contest.


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