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Breakdown: Michigan and Louisville face off for the Championship

Adam Glanzman/Daily
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By Daniel Wasserman, Daily Sports Editor
Published April 7, 2013

In week 10 of the season, Michigan and Louisville were each ranked in the AP Poll’s top three. Three weeks later, with the Wolverines positioned atop the polls, the Cardinals had fallen all the way to No. 12.

By time the NCAA Tournament kicked off two months later, those roles were flipped, with Louisville as the bracket’s top overall seed and Michigan as a No. 4 seed, falling somewhere in the No. 13-16 range. None of that matters anymore, as the Wolverines and Cardinals, the nation’s last two teams standing, will battle it out on Monday night for the National Championship.

The Daily breaks down Monday’s matchups.

Point guard: Perhaps the only point guard that has a real advantage over sophomore Trey Burke, Aaron Craft, will be watching the title game in Columbus, nearly 600 miles from Atlanta. But with that being said, Louisville’s Peyton Siva is no slouch.

The senior is making his second career Final Four appearance, and despite sometimes erratic decision making, he’s paced the Cardinals through a grinding Big East season, leading them to conference regular season and tournament crowns.

Burke, on the other hand, displayed consistency like no player anywhere in the country on his way to being a consensus National Player of the Year recipient. But in the tournament, he’s looked less than stellar at times.

Both players struggled in Saturday-night victories. Siva shot 1-of-9 from the field and has hit just one 3-pointer in the tournament, while Burke was limited to seven points on 1-of-8 shooting.

Despite Siva’s experience though, Burke has proven all year that his play shines the most when the lights are brightest.

Edge: Michigan

Wings: Guard Russ Smith has the capability of torching Michigan single-handedly. On the flip side, the junior has the ability of shooting his team out of a ball game, earning him the nickname, “Russ-diculous,” from his coach, Rick Pitino.

The high-volume shooter is averaging 25 points in the tournament but has been shaky from long range.

Guard-forward Wayne Blackshear and forward Chane Behanan each provide Louisville with solid length on defensive, but on offense, their contributions are often overlooked. The Cardinals’ depth took a major blow when guard Kevin Ware went down with a gruesome injury last week in Indianapolis. Though Ware has provided Louisville with plenty of motivation, the Cardinals certainly have to be wary of getting into foul trouble. Pitino said on Saturday, his team was “afraid to foul” and was playing “very cautious.”

On the other sideline, junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr. has done his best “Russ-diculous” impression. Hardaway’s 3-for-13 night against Florida helped the Gators threaten to put a serious dent into Michigan’s lead, and his team-high 13 points on Saturday were the product of 16 shots, 12 of which clanked out.

Freshman forward Glenn Robinson III should provide some offense, but he’ll again face a physical mismatch on the defensive end. He’ll likely be guarding Behanan, and though the two forwards are each 6-foot-6, Robinson is 40 pounds lighter.

The game’s x-factor may be freshman guard Nik Stauskas. What the freshman gives up on defense, he can more than make up on offense with his potentially lethal 3-point shooting. Stauskas was held scoreless on Saturday — he said he was suffering through a migraine — but broke open Michigan’s regional final game open by knocking down six 3-pointers. If he shoots anywhere close to that mark, the Wolverines may run away with things.

While Michigan’s wings may have the higher upside — if they’re hot, watch out — Louisville’s wings possess more consistency, while Smith has been one of the tournament’s top scorers.

Edge: Louisville

Post: Pitino said on Sunday that his center, Gorgui Dieng, will likely declare for the NBA at some point after the title game. And while Dieng, one of the nation’s top defensive post players all season, has had his sights on the draft for a while, freshman forward Mitch McGary’s draft stock was a non-factor just four weeks ago.

But after being inserted into the starting lineup at the onset of the NCAA Tournament, McGary has registered 16 points and nearly 12 rebounds per game, suddenly displaying formidable lottery-pick talent.