Congratulations to the Louisville Cardinals for their third NCAA tournament championship, and to coach Rick Pitino for his second title and induction into the NCAA Basketball Hall of Fame. Louisville fans should be very proud of their team and coach, and I’m certain that they are. As Kentucky fans, we own a piece of Pitino’s career as well, and not an insignificant one. I join Louisville in their pride in his induction into the HOF. Strange thing, sharing a national championship coach with your arch-rival.
Congratulations also to the Michigan Wolverines for an outstanding season. Their run to the finals was every bit as impressive as Louisville’s, and the effort they gave last night probably would have been enough against any other team in the land. Louisville’s rather combination of small, quick, penetrating guards and a red-hot 3-point shooter was just a tiny bit superior to the outstanding play by Wooden Award winner Trey Burke and his teammates. Terrific season for the Maize and Blue, and even if the end is not what they hoped for, the Wolverines look like they have returned to the national stage from a long hiatus.
I was very pleased to see the game last night wound up being non-controversial. Louisville got a clean win, despite the closeness of the game, and that’s definitely a good thing both for them, their fans and Cardinal basketball.
I was very displeased with the quality of the officiating in this game. One would think that these three officials, who managed to be thought highly enough of to get selected to the NCAA championship game, would have made fewer obvious mistakes. Some mistakes are always inevitable, but this game just had too many for my comfort, and continues a trend of poorly officiated games over both the men and women’s tournament which Greg lamented, justifiably, only yesterday.
Still, despite the many missed and wrong calls, the officiating never really impacted the outcome, and honestly, that is all a fan can ever really ask for when the officiating is inferior. I don’t think the mistakes favored one team or the other, there were just too many of them. All too often, one or two calls really make a difference in the balance of the outcome, but that was not the case in this game. Louisville gets a non-controversial clean win, and both teams deserved that much.
This was one of the more dramatic final games I’ve seen in a while with both teams going nuts from three-point range at various times, and both teams dominating the offensive glass at various times. The contestants collectively shot extremely well from the field, both from outside and inside the arc. What eventually won it for Louisville was the same thing that has won them games all year – creating turnovers.
Louisville had nine steals in this game, and that means nine live-ball turnovers. Most of those were turned into layups, and even though the turnover battle overall was not a big win for Louisville at 12-9 in favor of the Cardinals, the Wolverines only managed to get 3 steals, which means the vast majority of Louisville’s turnovers were of the dead-ball variety. The Cardinals also won the offensive rebounding battle by a significant margin, mostly in the second half.
As has been the case virtually all year long, Louisville got many more shots on goal than the Wolverines, 61-48. Despite outshooting the Cardinals significantly, 60.4 to 52.5 eFG%, the Cardinals advantage in shots on goal overcame the greater efficiency of the Wolverines.
I can’t really say enough about Michigan’s Spike Albrecht and Louisville’s Luke Hancock. Those worthies put on one of the more amazing 3-point shooting displays the final game has ever seen, Albrecht going 4-5 and Hancock making all five of his 3-point attempts. Truly remarkable. Albrecht did a "Can you top this?" number early in the first half, and Hancock did top it with four threes in a row late in the first half, plus one late in the game. As I say, remarkable.
In the end, it wasn’t so much Michigan wearing down as it was an accumulation of errors in the second half that provided the margin. Michigan missed several critical free throws toward the end of the game, and still wound up shooting a very respectable 72% from the line. Louisville was even better at nearly 80%. Foul trouble on Mitch McGary, and the lack of a quality back up for John Beilein’s team also enabled Louisville to dominate the offensive glass late in the contest.
Overall, this was one of the more enjoyable final games I have seen in a long time. You have to go back to the 2008 Kansas Jayhawks - Memphis Tigers final for a more exciting contest, and even that wasn’t nearly as well played as this one was.
So congratulations again to Louisville. Noble victory, well played.