NCAA crown up for grabs in ATL

Russ Smith #2 of the Louisville Cardinals

Russ Smith #2 of the Louisville Cardinals (Credit: Russ Smith #2 of the Louisville Cardinals (Getty Images))

With the 2013 NCAA championship on the line tonight in Atlanta, it’s bound to be a battle between one of the nation’s best offenses in Michigan and one of its top defenses in Louisville. Here’s how those sides stack up against each other from both on the court and on the sidelines.

High-powered offense
The Wolverines bring the biggest threat that the Cardinals’ defense has seen this season. That’s one of the nation’s most potent offenses. Michigan’s .484 field goal percentage ranks eighth-best in the nation, and they are 27th in points per game (75.2). While the Cardinals will have their hands full with Trey Burke, Nik Stauskas and Mitch McGary, the Wolverines aren’t merely a team of high-level starters. They get big-time production from their bench, which was on full display when Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht combined to score 14 points against Syracuse on Saturday. That helped offset a poor shooting performance from Burke.

Stifling defense
The Cardinals came back from a 12-point deficit to defeat Wichita State in the Final Four. A big part of that resurgence was the quality play exhibited by the team’s defense, which held the Shockers without a field goal for almost five minutes in the second half to shave nine points off the deficit. Louisville will need that kind of shutdown play again tonight to have a chance to limit Michigan’s stars. The Wolverines faced one of the game’s best defenses in Syracuse’s 2-3 zone and got past it with relative ease.

Coaching matchup
Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who ESPNNewYork.com reports will be introduced as part of the 2013 class for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame tonight, will attempt to become the first coach ever to win a national championship with two different schools. His first came with Kentucky in 1996. He’s also been to the Final Four seven times.

Michigan coach John Beilein will be coaching in his first national championship game. The coach, in his sixth year at the school, reached the NCAA Tournament four of the last five seasons. Before this year, the team had not advanced past the Round of 32. Beilein also reached an Elite Eight and Sweet 16 as part of three straight NCAA tournament berths while coaching at West Virginia.

Liking Louisville
The No. 1 overall-seeded Cardinals are listed as a four-point favorite and it’s hard to see how the Wolverines will beat those odds. Michigan will need a hot-shooting combination of Burke (18.5 ppg) and Stauskas (.439 3PT%) as well as a big performance from Mitch McGary (6.3 rpg) on the glass to have a shot against high-octane scorer Russ Smith (18.9 ppg) and a strong supporting cast.

Additionally, expect the Cardinals to rally around their injured teammate, Kevin Ware, and bring home a national title.

Tags: SPORTS

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