Louisville, Michigan Arrive In National Title Game Thanks To Rick Pitino, Trey Burke And Mitch McGary

04/08/2013 09:54 am ET | Updated Apr 08, 2013
  • Jordan Schultz The Huffington Post Sports Columnist, The Schultz Report

Before we declare another awesome three weeks of March Madness over and before we tell David Barrett to start warming up the pipes for another rendition of "One Shining Moment," we have a bit of business to get to Monday night. The NCAA Tournament's top overall seed, Louisville, has now won 15 straight games. Michigan, a 4 seed, has been lights out since losing to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament, and features perhaps the best offense in the country against the most vicious and efficient of defenses.

Let's take a look at the five key things to watch come tip time, at 9:23 EST tonight.

1). Premier Guard Play

It's nearly impossible to win a national championship without great guards. Monday night's tilt features an elite duo of backcourts in Louisville's Russ Smith and Peyton Siva against Michigan's Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Burke, still just a sophomore, is likely the only lottery pick of the four. However, as much as Syracuse's length bothered him Saturday night, the Cardinals remarkable quickness and trapping won't make things any easier. Smith -- the leading scorer in the NCAA Tournament -- will need to continue slashing and making 3s, but look out for Siva. He has averaged under 9 points per game in five tournament outings, but is a key catalyst for Rick Pitino's offense. The same goes for Hardaway, who has struggled in March and is coming off a brutal 4-16 night. If Smith and Burke wash each other out, whoever plays better -- Siva or Hardaway Jr. -- could very well decide the outcome.

2). Mitch McGary vs. Gorgui Dieng

Will McGary's brute force and rare skill set win out over Dieng's remarkable shot-blocking ability and interior toughness? Remember, Dieng not only averaged 2.5 blocks this season, but also led the Big East in rebounding. Per ESPN Stats & Info, the Cardinals were outscoring opponents by a robust 19 points in the paint entering the Final Four. McGary though, is a unique challenge. At 6-foot-10 with a thick body and awesome hands, he has a great feel on the block and from the high post and finishes everything. He's converted around 70 percent of his field goals throughout the entire tournament.

3). The Turnover Battle

Watching Michigan dismantle the 'Cuse 2-3 matchup in the first half was truly a work of art. Not only did the Wolverines make shots, they also didn't turn the ball over. In fact, during the tournament, Michigan has committed a turnover on a mere 16 percent of their possessions, according to ESPN.com. Pitino's entire defense is predicated off of relentless pressure and trapping, and ranks as the most efficient defense in America as a result. The last time John Belien's team saw pressure like this was VCU in the round of 32, and it won by 25 points.

national championship

Louisville head coach Rick Pitino is a Hall of Famer, but Michigan's John Beilein has the more talented team. (AP photo/David J. Phillip)

4). X-Factors

Michigan has a couple in long-range bomber Nik Stauskas and playmaker Caris LeVert, who hit a few huge 3s against the Orange. Louisville counters with its own sharpshooter in Luke Hancock, whose 20 points Saturday proved to be the difference. I think Stauskas is the real wild card though. He's an interesting talent who shoots the triple at 45 percent. While a freshman, he's shown no fear in big moments. The 'Cuse zone bothered him, but at 6-foot-6, Stauskas should get some clean looks Monday night.

5). The Coaches

Pitino, who is now coaching in back-to-back Final Fours, just learned that he will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. And, if Louisville does win Monday night, he will become the first-ever head coach to win championships at two different schools (Kentucky). Beilein, meanwhile, doesn't have the same resume, but does have the same type of system where he recruits kids tailor-made for his system and where they all buy in. He's a blue-collar, old-school guy who helped turn Burke -- a three-star recruit and former Penn State commit -- into a Wooden Award winner. His team, after all, has KenPom's top-rated offense of the tournament and is looking to become just the second 4 seed to capture a championship. The last, you ask? In 1997, when Arizona beat Pitino's Kentucky squad.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Pitino coached back-to-back national titles. It is back-to-back Final Fours.

Email me at jordan.schultz@huffingtonpost.com or ask me questions about anything sports-related at @Schultz_Report.

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