By Jon Rothstein
The season that none of us could predict is set to give us a title game that none of us will forget.
In a year where college basketball was dominated by unpredictability, two high-level schools — Louisville and Michigan, led by two high-level coaches in Rick Pitino and John Beilein — are set to give us a battle tonight that should be everything that everyone who follows the sport deserves.
Pitino is in many ways the standard in the coaching profession.
He took Providence to the Final Four in 1987. He made Kentucky a dominant force in the 1990s before heading to the NBA. And now, in his third trip to the Final Four at Louisville, he’s chasing the one thing that’s eluded him since he returned to college coaching — a national championship.
Beilein meanwhile, is a throwback. This is a man that’s never been an assistant, and is still known as a guy who cuts in his own grass. He’s a coach’s coach, and maybe that’s why so many people have such an affinity for him.
Beilein has reached the pinnacle of his profession by doing the only thing he knows — grinding.
He won at Canisius, and then Richmond, before making his mark nationally at West Virginia. When Michigan called, Beilein didn’t even look at the campus before accepting the job.
Now, he’s going against Pitino for the sport’s richest prize.
Louisville has been the best team in college basketball for the majority of the season, but the tragic loss of reserve guard Kevin Ware, who suffered a gruesome leg injury against Duke, affects the Cardinals’ perimeter depth.
Will Michigan benefit?
The Wolverines have the best back court in college basketball in Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., while burly big man Mitch McGary has blossomed into a burgeoning prospect.
Louisville is the the team that was expected to be here. Michigan is the team that destiny put here.
Down 12 in the Sweet 16 against Kansas, the Wolverines got a deep three from Burke to tie the game late in regulation and send it to overtime. Ever since then Michigan has been like a runaway train.
Is Louisville the team to slow it down?
We can’t wait to find out.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Coach: Rick Pitino
Starting Five: Peyton Siva, Russ Smith, Wayne Blackshear, Chane Behanan, Gorgui Dieng
Top Reserve: Luke Hancock
Strength: Front court depth
Weakness: Half court offense
Coach: John Beilein
Starting Five: Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary
Top Reserve: Jordan Morgan
Strength: Outside shooting
Weakness: Front court depth
PREDICTION: LOUISVILLE 71, MICHIGAN 67
Who do you have in Monday night’s title game? Make your prediction in the comments!