It’s been an exhilarating, entertaining and exhausting NCAA basketball tournament, but championship Monday is finally upon us. The Louisville Cardinals advanced past the Wichita State Shockers, 72-68 and the Michigan Wolverines took down the Syracuse Orange, 61-56.The rest of my bracket may be royally busted, but at the very least, I was able to correctly predict the final two teams to reach the championship game (and post my prediction publicly!).
But my certainty was solidified by the matchups and yes, by watching these teams throw their weight around earlier in the tournament. There was little doubt Louisville were the best team in the field of 68. They were the No. 1 seed overall and their coach Rick Pitino is one of the most respected and successful coaches in the game today. Pitino will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in September and for good reason. He’s the first and only coach to take three different programs to the Final Four. He has reached the Final Four seven times, won more than 600 Division-I games, led his teams to 22 postseason appearances and won ten conference tournament championships. And he’s done it all while looking like a televangelist/limousine salesman.
Opposing Pitino will be Michigan bench boss John Beilein, who is no slouch himself. He’s coached basketball for 35 seasons and won more than 670 games. Although he hasn’t coached all of his games at the Division-I level (he’s had stints at junior college Erie CC, NAIA Nazareth, Division II LeMoyne and Division I schools Canisius, Richmond, West Virginia and now Michigan), he’s always been successful and he’s thought of as one of the foremost X’s and O’s guys in the college game. He’s old school, he gets the most out of his players and he looks like an insurance salesman.
In a head-to-head matchup, it’s a lot easier to root against Pitino, the guy who has the Midas touch for constantly winning – including his racehorse – and had an abortion scandal. But if you cheer for the bad guys in the movies and underdogs are your bane, you should root against Beilein, the blue collar guy with eight siblings, didn’t get his first Division-I job until 17 years into the business, and whose family inspired the movie “Saving Private Ryan.”
Fortunately, this game is about more than the coaches.
It’ll be Michigan’s offense (which ranks first nationally in efficiency) against Louisville’s defense (which ranks first nationally in efficiency). Michigan have a phenom sophomore (and 2013 Naismith Men's Player of the Year) in guard Trey Burke. Louisville have junior guard Russ Smith, who didn’t receive quite the attention Burke did but probably should have, considering he’s averaging 25 points in Louisville’s five tournament games. These two future NBA players aren’t the only determining factors in the championship game, but they’re two of the biggest. It just might come down to who plays better in the clutch while millions of people watch in prime time.
So to close out my 2013 March Madness article series, I’ll simply leave you with two predictions: This will be an absolutely phenomenal game and the Louisville Cardinals will cut down the nets and take home the trophy.
You can hold me to the first one.
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