College Basketball Coverage: Louisville Cuts Down The Nets

Okay Louisville, I surrender. I believe in you now. After an entire NCAA Tournament of damning the Cardinals with faint praise, I’m going to heap it on them now. Not just because they completed the last leg of the journey, beating Michigan 82-76 last night in Atlanta to win the national championship. But the way in which they did it.

What impressed me most about the Cardinals’ victory was that I felt Michigan did most of what it needed to do win the game. The Wolverines did a nice job handling Louisville’s pressure defense, created some opportunities, and got a big game off the bench from Spike Albrecht, who scored 17 points. Trey Burke got locked in early and ended up with 24. The one area I was genuinely concerned about for Michigan—their ability, or lack thereof, to match up with Louisville center Gorgui Dieng, didn’t really hurt them. Dieng had a decent game, eight points and eight rebounds, but it wasn’t at the level I thought he would need to be for Louisville to win.

Louisville essentially played Michigan at the style and pace in which the Wolverines were most comfortable and beat them. Luke Hancock, the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, scored 22 points off the bench providing an answer for Albrecht. Hancock had an incredibly flurry of four treys late in the in first half when Michigan had opened up a 12-point lead. Chane Behanan’s 15 points and 12 rebounds gave the Cards an edge at the forward spot. And ultimately, as CBS’ post-game crew noted, Louisville flat-out wore Michigan down with their relentless pressure.

Michigan head coach John Beilen came into some criticism for sitting Burke too long after he picked up two fouls in the first half. This was when the Wolverines were opening up their lead and Albrecht was hitting every shot he threw up, but the CBS crew—the Kenny Smith/Charles Barkley/Greg Anthony/Doug Gottlieb quartet—pointed out at halftime and after the game, that Burke’s absence enabled Louisville to rally at the end of the first half and slowed Burke’s own momentum and flow in the game after his hot start.

I didn’t have a sense of coaching malfeasance as it was unfolding, mainly because Michigan was playing so well, but it’s hard to deny the criticisms. The 26 minutes Burke ended up on the floor is one of the most damning stats in the box score. I can understand where Beilein was coming from—you’ve got a lead, you don’t want him to pick up a third foul—but that’s a long time to keep the best player on the floor on the bench.

And so we reach the end of another college hoops season. For the second straight year, the bracket’s #1 overall seed wins the championship and the trophy moves up the road from Lexington to Louisville. It’s an odd ending after a year of parity—a blueblood program that was ranked #1 upholding its status—but that can’t obscure the wild ride that it was along the way.

For Rick Pitino, it’s another gold star on a Hall of Fame resume, as the coach was inducted into the Hall on Monday morning.For Lousiville–all we can say is what a year! Not just last night, but the women’s team plays for the championship tonight and the football team won the Sugar Bowl. For Michigan, it’s a great year that came up a little bit short—something they lived through during last year’s baseball season with the Tigers as well. If you’re a fan in the Detroit area are you feeling cursed or blessed right now? I personally think you should feel the latter, but it can be easy for fans to get frustrated.

For CBS, I want to issue a plea for next year’s tournament—get rid of most of your pregame analysts. We don’t need the obnoxious Gottlieb or the uptight Anthony. Whether you like them or not, any airtime they get takes away from Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley, the most entertaining tag-team in any sport right now. I’m not kidding when I say that I’d watch a segment that just had those two watching the games and arguing with each other for a few hours. And then jettison Clark Kellog and let Steve Kerr be the sole in-game analyst with Jim Nantz.

TheSportsNotebook’s college basketball coverage will return in November. In the meantime, congratulations to Rick Pitino and the Louisville Cardinals and a shoutout to the entire sport for what was an entertaining  and memorable season. We’ve crowned our first champion of the 2013 sports calendar.