Michigan (25-11) vs. Louisville (25-8)
Free Press sports writer Mark Snyder scouts Sunday’s second-round NCAA tournament game (12:10 p.m., CBS) between Midwest Region No. 7 seed Michigan and No. 2 seed Louisville:
Derrick Walton Jr. and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman played off each other as well as they ever have during Friday's first-round win over Oklahoma State. Early in the game against the Cowboys, Walton deferred and Abdur-Rahkman attacked, then Walton took over with his wild second-half shooting. From late January to late February, no player was better than Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell, averaging 22 points per game, earning him first-team All-ACC honors. That coincided with his backcourt mate, Quentin Snider, out with a hip problem. But since Snider returned, Mitchell has cooled off, scoring in double figures once in the past four games. Mitchell was an aggressive rebounder in Friday's 78-63 win over Jacksonville State with a career-high 10, but the Cards need more from him offensively. He’s a shutdown All-ACC defender and likely will draw Walton. Snider is the primary three-point threat, shooting 42% since his return. Edge: Even.
Michigan’s versatile D.J. Wilson is playing the best basketball of his career at both ends, scoring in double figures four of the past five games. Zak Irvin has been a consistent scorer and rediscovered his three-point shot against Oklahoma State, making plays at both ends. U-M needs more out of Moe Wagner, who continues to be in foul trouble and hasn’t had a dynamic game in three weeks. Louisville usually gets more offense out of its backcourt, but center Mangok Mathiang recently has become a scoring threat with 18 points in the win over Jacksonville State. He is averaging 14.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and blocked seven shots over the past four games. U-M can prepare for him because he is long and lanky like Wagner and Wilson. The frontcourt offense comes from sophomore wing Deng Adel, who averages 11.9 points and can be an explosive scorer. The third big man is Ypsilanti’s Jaylen Johnson, whose role primarily is as a rebounder, though he’s only averaging 14.2 minutes in the past five games. Edge: Even.
As usual, Louisville goes deeper on its roster, needing bodies for its up-tempo style. The Cardinals have five bench players averaging at least 9.5 minutes per game this season and all have started at least once. None are explosive scorers but each knows his role: Ray Spalding as a rebounder (5.7 per game), VJ King and Ryan McMahon as occasional three-point shooters and Anas Mahmoud as a shot blocker. Michigan’s bench isn’t giving much these days beyond Duncan Robinson, who had eight points against Oklahoma State. This game with a faster pace isn’t a good matchup for Mark Donnal, but there may be a chance to see more from Xavier Simpson because of the tempo. Edge: Louisville.
The Wolverines continue to be one of the hottest teams the past six weeks and have shown the ability to play different ways. It’s tough to read Louisville because there are losses in the past few weeks, though falling to North Carolina and Duke is hardly a shame. The Wake Forest loss is curious. Michigan has its momentum and is more experienced than Louisville, which has one senior in its rotation and starts two sophomores. The coaches remember the 2013 title game but the players are new. Edge: Michigan.
Rick Pitino is a Hall of Fame coach for a reason and one of the most successful in history. He gets talented players, yet hardly the level of Kentucky and Duke. His teams revolve around their style, the stifling defense and attacking offense. Though his players are young – Louisville is No. 224 in experience nationally – he has handled this stage, going 13-3 in the second round. Michigan’s John Beilein thrives because of his adaptability and willingness to prepare differently for every team. While he has an impressive 12-6 in the NCAA tournament at Michigan, he’s 2-2 in the second round with wins as the higher seed and losses as the lower seed. Pitino said Beilein’s the toughest coach he has ever prepared for. Edge: Even.
The Wolverines are the team that’s rolling and were well-prepped by facing an up-tempo team in Oklahoma State. Louisville’s intense defense will be the big challenge, but as long as the Wolverines take care of the ball – they had only four turnovers vs. the Cowboys – they can win. U-M may not need the lights-out shooting again but will need a big game from someone else if Walton is taken away. Michigan's biggest concern could be its lack of depth.
Prediction: Michigan 80, Louisville 75.