Michigan and Louisville tip off later this evening for a national championship. The Wolverines have their first shot at adding a second national championship banner to the rafters of the Crisler Center since 1993 when the Fab Five fell short.
Louisville, the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, will be Michigan’s most difficult test yet. The Cardinals have won 15 straight games and are playing great basketball, despite losing Kevin Ware to a tragic injury in the Elite Eight. Here are four keys for Michigan to upset Louisville on Monday night.
Keep cleaning the defensive glass
The morning before Michigan’s NCAA tournament opener I published a piece examining the Wolverines’ struggles leading up to the tournament. One of the major takeaways was that Michigan’s defensive rebounding had went from great to awful in a hurry. The Wolverines were giving up second chances in bunches and it was killing any hope of a good defense – or a transition offense.
The message was received.
In its last five games of the regular season and Big Ten Tournament, Michigan allowed its opponents to rebound 41% of their missed shots. In five NCAA tournament games, Michigan has allowed its opponents to rebound just 24% of their misses.
Rebounding is always a team effort but Mitch McGary’s defensive rebounding dominance has been superb. The 6-foot-10 freshman has an individual defensive rebounding rate of 30.5%.
How good is that? Extrapolated over a season it would rank first nationally in Division I. How big of an improvement is it? In Big Ten play McGary’s defensive rebounding percentage was just 17.2%.
McGary and Michigan will have one more test on the defensive glass as Louisville boasts an offensive rebounding attack ranked 17th nationally.
Don’t turn it over, attack
John Gasaway, whose opinion I respect a great deal, wrote that turnovers aren’t everything in this game. I understand Gasaway’s argument. Louisville’s offense is still good – great in the NCAA tournament – and the Cardinals have won plenty of games without forcing turnovers. As great as Louisville’s offense has been, its defense is still better when its forcing turnovers.
The Cardinals surrendered a point per possession or more in two of those three recent low forced turnover games – against good not great offenses. Turnovers are important to Louisville’s defense regardless of how well its offense is playing.
Michigan was masterful attacking VCU after the breaking the press two weeks ago at the Palace and while Louisville’s defense is much better in possessions where it doesn’t force a turnover, there will still be opportunities to exploit the Cardinals’ pressure defense. Michigan isn’t going to win this game with an average offensive performance, if the Wolverines are going to go out on top its going to take one of their best offensive games of the season.
Who does Michigan have to worry about forcing turnovers? Luke Winn’s chart tells the story.
Make Louisville win with jump shooting, not free throws and layups
Louisville shoots 67% at the rim, 32% on 2-point jump shots and 33% on 3-point jump shots. 38% of the Cardinals’ attempts come at the rim, 32% are 2-point jump shots and 30% are 3-point jump shots. Michigan needs to limit those easy opportunities at the rim and force the Cards to win the game with their jump shooting.
According to Synergy Sports, Louisville scores .882 points per possession on jump shots with a 44% effective field goal percentage.The Cardinals get to the basket – anything other than runners, post ups and jump shots – on 38.9% of their possessions; scoring 1.18 points per possession around the basket.
Michigan has to pack it in and prevent dribble penetration – go under ball screens, pack the lane, and sell out to stop dribble penetration. If Peyton Siva and Russ Smith beat you hitting threes, at least you played the odds.
Louisville’s dribble penetration goes beyond just easier shots, the Cardinals are also a better offensive team when they get to the free throw line. Russ Smith, Chane Behanan and Gorgui Dieng are all great at drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line. Michigan allows fewer free throws than any team in the country and its defensive recipe relies on not giving away free points.
Ball screen efficiency
It’s no secret that Michigan loves the ball screen. The Wolverines run a ball screen on 23% of their offensive possessions and are the most efficient ball screen offense at the major conference level. Trey Burke’s rise from borderline top 100 recruit to National Player of the Year is due to his ability to score and create in ball screen situations.
And while most of the strength-on-strength talk leading up to this game revolves around the turnover, Louisville has a strong ball screen defense in its own right. The following table shows the top ball screen offenses (including passes) at the major conference level on the left and the top major conference ball screen defenses (including passes) on the right.
|Top Major Conference Ball Screen Offense||Top Major Conference Ball Screen Defense|
|Rk||Team||% Time||PPP||Rk||Team||% Time||PPP|
|3||Iowa State||18.50%||0.990||3||Ohio State||18.40%||0.687|
Date via Synergy Sports
The bad news for Michigan is that Louisville does a great job of defending ball screens. The good news is that Michigan has seen great ball screen offenses before. Michigan has faced the the other four in the top five and survived with a 4-1 record.
John Beilein made it clear that Trey Burke still played a big game on Saturday despite a poor shooting night – and Burke definitely made a lot of plays – but Michigan will need Burke to be at his best against the Cardinals if it wants to cut down the nets. Achieving that feat will require Burke to crack Louisville’s ball screen defense.
Chane Behanan isn’t the most efficient player in the Louisville rotation. He’s not the most productive and he’s not the highest volume shooter of the bunch. His matchup with Glenn Robinson III might just be the most important.
Robinson has struggled at times defending stronger power forwards or combo forwards. Deshaun Thomas, CJ Fair, Kevin Young and CJ Leslie are just a few players that have exploited these mismatches over the year. Robinson needs to hold his own against the stronger Behanan on the block.
Michigan also struggles to defend fours because it usually switches every screen at the one through four positions. Can the Wolverines afford to do this against Louisville? Tim Hardaway Jr. could handle being switched onto Behanan but Burke and Stauskas would obviously be a problem.