Rushed Reactions: #1 Louisville 82, #4 Michigan 76Posted by rtmsf on April 9th, 2013
RTC is reporting from the Final Four in Atlanta, Georgia, this weekend.
Five Key Takeaways.
- They Did It For Ware, But They Were Going to Do It Anyway. Louisville was the best team this season, and they played like teams that are the best teams typically do. No matter what Rick Pitino says about how the NCAA Tournament field was wide open this year, the Cardinals had the appropriate toughness and ability on both ends of the floor to successfully handle any type of opponent. In both Final Four games this weekend, his team came back from double-figure deficits, and they did so by avoiding any natural tendency to panic on the big stage and having the confidence in unlikely heroes to step up when called upon. It was Luke Hancock and Chane Behanan tonight. It was Tim Henderson and Hancock on Saturday night. Russ Smith was the star of the first four games of the Dance. Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng have certainly had their moments. Even Montrezl Harrell and Wayne Blackshear have stepped up when needed. The Cards ran off 17 games in a row after a wild five-overtime defeat at Notre Dame on February 9, and 20 of 21 since late January. The only real question mark with respect to this team was what might happen if the starting backcourt pair of Siva and Smith were both having bad offensive nights — like, perhaps if the pair combined for 15-of-57 (26.3 percent) in back-to-back games at the Final Four? The Cards had the answer all along — a shooter by the name of Luke Hancock (11-of-15) who would make up for what they were lacking on that end. Well played, Louisville.
- Welcome to the Atlanta Gun Show. In all our many years of watching college basketball, we’re not sure we’ve ever seen a player knock down four consecutive bombs in the way that Michigan’s Spike Albrecht did followed by an opposing player answer with four consecutive bombs in the way that Luke Hancock did. Hancock’s were more rapid-fire than Albrecht’s in that they came literally over a two-minute span to get the Cards back into the game, but Albrecht’s bombing may have actually had a bit of a stagnation effect on the rest of his teammates. With Albrecht playing so well offensively, John Beilein elected to rest his NPOY starting point guard, Trey Burke, for 14 minutes of the first half, and although it’s tough to argue with a Michigan lead taken into halftime, it seemed as if the other major (and necessary) contributors — Glenn Robinson III, Tim Hardaway, Jr., Nik Stauskus — were having difficulty finding their spots. The Albrecht Show was great theater in the Georgia Dome this evening, but it may have had a negative effect for Michigan in the long term by not allowing Burke to facilitate his team better.
- Why Didn’t Michigan Foul Sooner? With 52 seconds left in the game, Michigan was only down four points but had stepped on the baseline on a rebound to give the Cards a full shot clock again. At the time the Wolverines only had five team fouls. They allowed 15 full seconds to run off the clock before Jon Horford gave one for the team’s sixth foul. Then Michigan allowed another eight ticks to expire before fouling Luke Hancock with 29 seconds remaining to send him to the line for the bonus. When John Beilein was asked about this decision (or lack thereof) to not foul afterward, he said, “I thought we were in the 1-and-1. That was a coaching error.” The gasps of shock were heard throughout the Twitter-verse… how he couldn’t have known the number of team fouls they had seemed borderline ludicrous. It says here that Beilein knew exactly how many fouls there were — he’s too smart and too good of a coach to miss that — but for some reason his players did not follow his instructions precisely in the execution of whom and when to foul — so he’s simply covering for their mistakes. At the end of the analysis, it’s reasonable to still say that the mistake is completely his fault, and you’d be right — but we’re not buying the concept that a coach as accomplished as Beilein made such an egregious error in the closing minute of a National Championship game without more evidence to support it.
- A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats. We’ve said this many times before this year, but Louisville HAD to win this championship to validate its program as a national powerhouse in contrast to the monolith that resides 70 miles east in Lexington. Nobody on the Cardinals would address the topic, but it goes without saying that Louisville’s “little brother” status in the Commonwealth of Kentucky is a persistent pain in the rear of the Louisville program. Duke became great because Coach K put Dean Smith’s North Carolina program directly in his crosshairs in the mid-1980s; Kentucky’s recent success under John Calipari has put the pressure on Rick Pitino and the Louisville players to counter the Wildcats’ momentum in order to stay relevant. Everyone knows what kind of recruiting class UK is bringing in next season — at worst, the 2013-14 Wildcats are likely to be like the 2010 John Wall/DeMarcus Cousins group; at best, like the 2012 Anthony Davis/Michael Kidd-Gilchrist unit. Louisville knew all too well that this year’s team, with an experienced, tough and talented mix of multi-functional players, was going to be the Cards’ best chance in a while to stem the blue and white tide rising all around them. Rick Pitino, having coached at both schools, is no dummy — he and his team weren’t going to waste this opening.
- Were We Not Entertained? For our money, this was the most entertaining National Championship game since the monster 1999 battle between Connecticut and Duke. (2008 Memphis-Kansas was fun, but missed free throws by the Tigers down the stretch spoiled it). The first half alone was one of the most entertaining 20 minutes of high-level basketball that we’ve ever encountered, and although Michigan didn’t stay tight enough with the Cards to produce a monumental finish, the up-and-down high-flying nature of the game was still outstanding throughout. Consider this: The best offense in the country lost despite hitting 52 percent of its shots and making eight threes; the best defense in the country won despite giving up those numbers and only causing a relatively low 12 turnovers. It was a contrast of styles wherein Louisville had to win an offensive-minded game and Michigan had to manage to find enough stops, and both teams performed admirably in pushing back against the other team’s strengths. This was a masterful finish to a wide open and often-bizarre college basketball season.
Star of the Game. Luke Hancock, Louisville. The Final Four Most Outstanding Player had another great game tonight, scoring 22 points and handing out three assists while knocking down all five of his attempts from beyond the arc. He saved his best for last, as his two games here in Atlanta represented his two highest regulation scoring outputs of the entire season. And the timeliness of his four first-half bombs brought the Cards from an 11-point deficit to just a single point right before the intermission. Again, it’s questionable whether Louisville could have won this game without Hancock’s huge and timely performance.
Pitino Interview. After the game, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino discussed his team’s long winning streak to the title, the greatness of the game, election to the Hall of Fame, and winning two championships.
- “I kept telling him, I got bruises all over my legs from getting hit. He wouldn’t listen to me.Playing for a great guy, not just from coaching, just a great father figure like Coach P, truly amazing. I baby-sit his grandkids. It’s truly amazing to get this win for him.” – Louisville point guard Peyton Siva, describing his relationship with Pitino and what it means to win for him.
- “You had no idea who was going to win going into this tournament. I think that’s so much fun as long as the game is well played.” — Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, describing the difference between the modern game and the days of players loading up teams for multiple seasons.
- “No I don’t think so, not necessarily. We had a chance to win that game, but we just slipped up on a couple things. It just made us better as a team and prepared us for this year.” — Louisville forward Wayne Blackshear, on whether the Kentucky loss last year inspired the Cardinals this year.
- It meant the world to me. I honestly didn’t expect it. You fight so hard all season to get to this point and we’re National Champions. I don’t really have any other words to describe how I feel right now. I’m so proud of these guys it’s crazy.” — Louisville’s Kevin Ware, describing his emotions after the game.
- “I thought we were in the 1-and-1. That was a coaching error.” — Michigan head coach John Beilein, discussing the Wolverines’ decision to not foul so quickly with under a minute to go.
- “Nobody expected us to be here. I thought that we did a great job coming out every night and trying to prove that to people. We lost this championship game by a couple possessions. I don’t even think that we sometimes thought that we could be here but we found a way to get better throughout the season and grind it out. I’m proud of everybody in this room.” — Michigan’s Glenn Robinson III, on how he felt after the loss.
Sights and Sounds. The first half of tonight’s championship game was as electric of an NCAA Tournament game as perhaps we’ve ever attended. There was a palpable buzz in the dome as we headed to the half that was very similar to when exciting games come to a fantastic buzzer-beating finish. Here are some of the better pictures we were able to grab afterward on the floor.
What’s Next. The offseason, obviously, and a number of important decisions from players on both teams — notably, Mitch McGary, Tim Hardaway Jr., Gorgui Dieng, and Russ Smith. Both teams are not likely to be playing in Arlington, Texas, this time next season unless they receive some surprising news, but you’d better believe that both coaches will have their programs reloading in short order.