The tourney-shattering jinx preview for this final got posted a few days ago, and duly caused a Michigan loss. Despite that, they play Louisville for the national title tonight. That thing is approaching 3000 words but in brief:
Louisville is relatively small. Starting guards are both 6'0", starting 4 is 6'6". Dieng has an inch on McGary; other than that the height matchups are basically equal save whichever of Hardaway/Stauskas gets checked by Siva. Chane Behanan, the four, will be a challenge for GRIII on the boards even though they're the same height.
They thrive on pressure defense. It's not always an all-out press. It is often enough for the Cardinals to end up #2 in the country at forcing turnovers and acquiring steals. VCU was #1 in both of those categories.
They are not VCU, though. They're much better at avoiding fouls and have a top 30 eFG defense. VCU was all TOs and could not back off a press if it did not work. With more size and depth plus an excellent shotblocker, the Cardinals have other options.
They're basically Syracuse when it comes to shooting. Both starting guards are around 30% from deep; they have a designated corner gunner who hits 38%; that's it. If you leave Dieng open he can hit a jumper. The rest of the team is either not too good at two point jumpers or doesn't shoot an appreciable number.
Russ Smith is their alpha and omega. He absorbs an incredible 33% of UL shots, converts at a reasonably efficient rate, forces a ton of turnovers, and gets to the line over and over again. His 5/12 performance there yesterday was an aberration. He is normally an 80% shooter at the line.
They don't post up. Okay every once in a while but it is rare.
They have a Syracuse-like rebounding profile. IE: crushing on offense, poor on defense. Unlike 'Cuse you can't blame a zone—much, anyway, as UL did zone Wichita quite a bit. The source of this disparity is Chane Behanan, it seems. He's a top 100 OREB guy who isn't nearly as good on the other end.
Post-Wichita State Updates
The Ware effect. The game against the Shockers was Louisville's first close one without Kevin Ware. UL responded by upping minutes for Smith and Siva; walk-on and savior Tim Henderson got ten minutes. He knocked down 2 of 3 corner threes to bring his season totals to exactly 30% and got a couple rebounds. That was the entirety of the rotation at the two guard spots.
There was a palpable difference in the pressure levels UL could apply when Henderson was on the court. Smith and Siva are a couple of the quickest, most athletic guards in the country. Henderson isn't. He's a walk-on. When he was on the court and UL tried to dial up the pressure, Wichita just dumped it to the guy not being checked by Siva or Smith and had no problem. Before a late spate of TOs that doomed them, the Shockers had gone 30 or so minutes with 4 TOs. Even with the spate they ended with 11, actually below their season average.
That's one part fluke, one part ten minutes of Henderson, one part Smith and Siva being a bit more cautious with their energy levels. If Michigan can repeat WSU's feat and end up under their TO levels for the game that bodes well.
which guy will make the other team's fans go "I can't believe that guy beat us?"
Spike. Spike versus That Dude is going to be an important matchup. Both will get ten to fifteen minutes. Dollars to donuts Michigan puts Albrecht out there when they see Henderson check in, at which point he'll take some of Trey's burden in the hopes of keeping him fresh down the stretch. Albrecht has also been hitting threes of late, while also adding various you-little-bastard plays like the most hated guy at the YMCA.
In the battle of tiny usage three-point shooting, Spike wins with 14/28 down to Henderson's 6/20.
Hack-a-McGary? What UL lacks in guard depth they have in post depth, and how. Like Michigan, Louisville has three plausible post-type substances. Dieng got 30 minutes despite foul trouble against WSU; Montrezl Harrell and Stephan Van Treese both got ten. Harrell contributed four dunks/putbacks to the cause. Van Treese was immediately targeted as a defensive weak spot.
Van Treese has usage rates under 10% and gets 10 minutes a game. He's five walking fouls to deploy against Mitch McGary if the situation calls for it.
How transition-dependent are these folks actually? John Gasaway has been banging the drum($) about UL's effective offensive performances in the tournament, most of which have come without bundles of turnovers gift-wrapping points.
WICHITA STATE: 11 opponent TOs, four fast break points, 1.16 PPP.
DUKE: 12 opponent TOs, six fast break points, 1.25 PPP.
OREGON: 12 opponent TOs, six fast break points, 1.12 PPP.
COLORADO STATE: 20 opponent TOs, six fast break points, 1.3 PPP.
NC AT&T: overwhelmed, not considered
SYRACUSE: 20 opponent TOs, eight fast break points, 1.2 PPP.
Etc. You get the idea. You look at the hoop math stats and think keeping UL out of transition is going to be a major hindrance, but if there's a case to make for that you have to go back a ways to find it.
Maybe they are free-throw dependent? FTAs over that stretch: 29, 36, 26, 18, 36. I could go in and hack out intentional fouls at the end of the game but only one of those games—Wichita State—was competitive enough to feature them. Louisville gets to the line a ton, Smith especially. Dude has a whopping 273 FTAs on the season.
This goes up against another Michigan strength-type substance. They're #1 at preventing FTAs by a mile. The cost has been crappy FG defense, but if Louisville is kept away from the rim and the foul line, their offense will slow down. That's kind of the trick against Siva and Smith, though.
Michigan has no history against a guard pairing like this. The massive free-throw generators they've played have been posts (Zeller, Withey) for the most part. NC State's Lorenzo Brown and Indiana's Yogi Ferrell are probably the closest analogues. IU got 15 FTAs at Assembly Hall before Michigan went intentional at the end and just nine in the Crisler rematch (all but one from Zeller). NC State was also limited to nine FTAs.
UL's only played one team in Michigan's foul-averse stratosphere, Notre Dame. I don't think we can take UL's 48 FTAs in the 5OT game seriously since ND had 49 of their own—woo 30 minutes of double bonus. In a 12-point UL win in the Big East Tourney, UL got to the line 17 times, but twelve of those were intentional. The cruised away in that one by holding ND to 39% from two and hitting half of their threes.
So… I think in the battle between getting fouls and preventing them, the edge here seems to be with Michigan. But I also thought Michigan wouldn't end up heaving half their shots from half-court against Syracuse. Michigan has not seen a Russ Smith yet.
Not Just A Shooter™. Luke Hancock is UL's designated corner gunner, but against Wichita State he also added 3 swooping layups off of perimeter drives that made all Michigan fans think "not just a shooter, drink." FWIW, he was driving on a 6'2" or 6'3" guy instead of one who matches him inch for inch.
BTW, if that name sounds familiar, Hancock transferred to UL from George Mason. Michigan was high on his list at one point.
Strength versus strength. Even if UL's offense hasn't depended much on its defense of late, their TOs forced have been a major asset. Michigan has neutralized the #1, #45, and, #23 TO defenses in their tourney run. They coughed it up 19% of the time against VCU, 15% of the time against Florida, and 17% of the time against Syracuse. They were just about even in TOs with all those teams. If they can match that a major UL advantage disappears.
The other strength versus strength is the FT line, as described above. While I'm pretty confident that Michigan will do fine against UL's pressure, I have no idea if they can keep Russ Smith off the line.
Kobe assist. If there was a shot near the paint Dieng did not try to block against Wichita State, I don't remember it. That's a major reason UL's defensive rebounding sucks. When in doubt, put your pass off the glass or shot fake and pass.
Peyton Siva's not shooting too well of late. He's 1 of 12 in the tourney from three, which didn't really matter until Wichita induced him into 5 attempts.
McGary versus Dieng fight. Goodman says be excited. This guy says Michigan wins. Andy Glockner flips to Michigan from a pre-tourney UL prediction. Breaking down the Kansas comeback from a different perspective. Spike Albrecht and such. Eamonn Brennan provides keys. Dribble penetration is bad you guys. Beilein adapts. Tim Hardaway profiled. Floyd Mayweather is going to bet money on things. Jon Horford is an eastern philosopher.
Bacari Alexander is preparing for the "speech of his life." HEY YOU GUYS GO EAT SOME BIRDS.