5 Reasons Why The Louisville Cardinals Will Be National Champions
It's finally here. After upsets, blowouts, and busted brackets, we've arrived at the end with two marquee names; both chock full of NBA talent and both coming from schools with rich histories and grand expectations. Like horseshoes and hand grenades, close will count for naught; win and gain glory forever, lose and think about those forty minutes with sorrow for the rest of your lives.
You've probably heard the commentators and ex-athletes talk ad infinitum about their opinions and anecdotal evidence. Are you sick of that yet? Let's get some numbers in here! Let's break it down, numberFire style.
Sports can sometimes be misleading. A team might only give up 50 points per game, but that doesn't mean they're necessarily a great defense; they could gain that from having a slow, time-possessive offense, or from their opponents playing downtempo. What matters is efficiency, or measuring the effectiveness of each possession. Michigan has a solid defensive efficiency, ranking #81 amongst all D1 teams but it's Louisville who rules the roost, ranking #2, only behind the plucky Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks.
This defensive efficiency means that the Wolverines will have to work on every possession and not be careless with the ball. This is something that has been difficult for them in the past, as sometimes having a boatload of NBA talent doesn't always translate into sound fundamentals. Louisville's press and grinding style causes nearly elevens steals a game, ranking them #2 in the nation.
The Block Party
In almost all of their losses, Michigan has been on the wrong side of the blocked shot statistic, getting their inside shots rejected despite not really being known for taking the ball inside. This is obviously critical when you compare Mitch McGary and his moves to Gorgui Dieng, a very talented shot blocker who will have no reservations keeping the paint dry inside.
Over the course of the season and post-season, Louisville has blocked nearly 2 more shots than Michigan per game. Combine with that Michigan's slow pace (ranking #264 amongst D1 schools) and lower number of possessions - not to mention the amount of turnovers the Cardinals create - this creates a large problem for Michigan if their outside shooting isn't hitting.
Although Michigan has a higher overall consistency score than Louisville - 54.3% to 47.3% - it's Louisville who has been more consistent as of late, avoiding the late-season lull that had Michigan inexplicably losing to Penn State and then (somewhat more understandably) losing twice to Wisconsin. Louisville doesn't really have a bad loss on it's resume - save possibly the loss at Villanova where they shot 50% at the stripe and 39% from the field - and certainly nothing in the range of Michigan's loss at Happy Valley.
Louisville seems to play out the same game over and over again; start off a little bit slow, grind their opponents down, capitalize on mistakes and take the victory. This consistency matters so much in games where the stakes are highest.
Louisville's raw efficiency metrics strike a very similar pose to that of Syracuse, a team that Michigan had fits with in the National Semis. It also compares very similarly to Indiana, a team that beat Michigan twice and has the block and turnover rate that will give Michigan's slow pace some problems.
On the flip side, Michigan's metrics do not compare all that favorably to teams that often trip Louisville up. The Cards' few losses came against grinders, in-conference teams likes Georgetown, Villanova, and Syracuse that can beat Louisville in size and run switches on Dieng to take him out of the paint.
Been There, Done That
Now, for a little bit of qualitative comparison, as much as I dislike it. I think it's much of a stretch to say that Rick Pitino has a little more history when it comes to the NCAA tournament than John Beilein. In fact, it's so one-sided, I'm not even going to break it down by numbers.
Even further, Louisville rolls out guys like Peyton Siva, Russ Smith, and Dieng - guys with 34 NCAA tournament appearances combined; not exactly a great comparison to the frosh trio of Burke, Stauskas, and McGary. Just like you couldn't blame the Wichita State Shockers by getting overwhelmed by the circumstance late in the second half, I don't think you could blame inexperienced guys in the biggest of game of them all, especially in contrast to experienced floor veterans like Siva and Smith.