Sunday, April 7, 2013
This final could be something special
By Andy Katz ESPN.com
ATLANTA -- There is a chance that this is the game this season needed.
There have been plenty of terrific, dramatic endings this season: last-second shots leading to legitimate and illegitimate court storming.
But the quality of play has at times been difficult to watch.
The national semifinals were not an exception but rather the norm. The two games had drama due to their competitive nature. They were late-possession affairs that were hard to dismiss. They were the type of games that were needed in a tournament that had upsets, but few tense endings.
Michigan and Louisville could provide the most entertaining watch. If, yes, if they both play up to their potential.
Trey Burke could be a building block for Orlando if Jameer Nelson is phased out.
"It could be a very high-scoring game,'' said Michigan's Trey Burke, who struggled mightily in the semifinal win over Syracuse. "We're both capable of scoring the ball and if we play our game then I think it definitely would be in the 80s, 90s or maybe higher if it went into overtime.''
Now that would be something to see. Louisville's defense is its anchor. The Cardinals' ability to turn the ball over has been its staple. Michigan can push the ball, rip and run with Mitch McGary getting boards and leading to Burke on the break.
Once again, if they can both play to their highest ability, this could provide the game we all crave.
"It would be a high-scoring game,'' said Louisville's Peyton Siva. "We're both capable of putting up numbers. We had one of our worst games of the tournament and we still scored 70.''
Burke said the game will be decided on who can get on the floor, come up with the loose balls, boards and win the tussles as well as doing the little things.
But no one wants to play in a clutch-and-grab type of game. No one wants to see a low-scoring title game or one that is hard to digest like the Butler-UConn final in 2011.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino said Sunday that he agreed with ESPN analyst Jay Bilas about looking at how the NBA deals with player movement during games.
"Like the NBA now, you see all of those great scoring teams,'' said Pitino. "Now they have a great product and we need to go the route of the NBA.''
Monday night would be a good start if the officials let the teams flourish in such a setting.
Burke said playing in a wide-open game is obviously more fun.
"When you play against teams that slow it down, you're not able to get out as much as you want to,'' said Burke. "It's hard because you can lose your confidence because you don't want to take shots that aren't there. Playing against teams like Louisville, high-tempo and pressure teams that are similar to your style brings out the best in both teams and should mean for definitely a good game Monday.''
Wichita State played a strong man's game against Louisville and almost won. Syracuse has pushed the tempo quite a bit this season. But the Orange zone, if played well, can cut the possessions down as well as the shot clock gets down to the final seconds.
Peyton Siva knows both Louisville and Michigan are capable of scoring a lot of points.
Louisville has seen it all and the slower-paced game has caused it problems.
Louisville's Russ Smith said when that occurs, the players will look to Pitino to settle them down as they try to do too much to get the game moving quicker. Sometimes, he said, it will take someone else, like Luke Hancock on Saturday night, to save the Cardinals from failing.
Smith, like everyone else, would love to see a good game Monday night.
"It could be up and down and really fast,'' he said. "But we don't want it to be that because we need to get stops on defense. I feel like we've got to dig in and stop them. It's easier said then done with the quarterback of their team in Burke.''
Pitino said he enjoys watching the way Michigan shoots, moves, cuts and passes.
"They're fun to watch,'' said Pitino. "As a coach going to play them, I really enjoy watching them on film.''
And what about coaching against them Monday night?
"I think it will be much different than what we both just experienced,'' said Pitino. "It will be two teams that run a lot of pick-and-rolls, a lot of roll and replace. Both play good defense. But it will be much more of a wide-open game, and should be a heckuva final.''
Hopefully that will be true.
"The game might get up into the 60s and 70s,'' said Michigan's John Beilein. "I don't know if it can get up to the 80s but I do think it would be entertaining.''
Unless fatigue and the moment are too overwhelming, then
"There could be dead legs and make it a game in the 50s,'' said Beilein.
Well, that wouldn't be ideal. The season needs to end on a high, a high-scoring, well-played, competitive final. If that happens, regardless of the outcome, then the season can end quite well.