Michigan lost a heart breaker to Louisville last Monday and the fact that it was one of the best championship games of recent memory is little consolation in the long run. However, Michigan struggled in a few key areas against Louisville, and ultimately couldn't pull out the win because of it. First the four factors:
This would seem to indicate a small advantage to Michigan, who shot the ball better, kept its turnover rate below 20% against a devastating Louisville defense, and got to the line at one of its best rates of the season. Of course, this overlooks the biggest difference in the four factors.
Cleaning the glass
Michigan held up well on the offensive boards over the first half of the game. The Wolverines had an 18-13 rebounding advantage after the first half. Then, Chane Behanan happened.
Michigan was doubled up on the boards over the last half with Louisville grabbing 22 to Michigan's 11. This utter domination of the glass can be seen in Behanan's final numbers: 7 offensive and 5 defensive boards. He was an absolute monster on the glass, along with Gorgui Dieng who added five offensive boards. The final numbers are shocking given the first half output of Michigan's rebounders. Louisville pulled in 44.1 percent of its offensive rebound opportunities. Michigan's hot shooting and relatively solid offensive output (1.18 ppp) just couldn't keep pace with Louisville getting so many second and third shot opportunities.
Game of runs
Louisville is a great team and even when the Cardinals are back on the scoreboard, all it takes is a spark to turn the tables. It happened the game before against Wichita State, and Michigan would fall to the same devastating run.
Of course Michigan built its own lead thanks to a solid run, this one sparked by none other than Spike Albrecht. With Trey Burke on the bench, Albrecht helped MIchigan go on a 15-6 run over eight minutes of gametime to build a seemingly solid 12 point lead. Had the half ended there, Michigan would have been sitting pretty. Then Luke Hancock happened.
Over the last three minutes of the half he became completely unguardable from deep and Michigan's 12 point advantage disappeared, cut to just one.
The Wolverines couldn't survive the Cardinals' eventual run, and the game ultimately hinged on that.
Firing on all cylinders
While MIchigan's ship wasn't sunk after that first half run, it did signal a shift in the game in which Louisville's offense took off. The Cardinals would finish the game scoring 1.28 ppp, ultimately leaving Michigan in the dust.
A big part of that is how well the Cardinals offense found itself easy scoring opportunities. With three minutes left in the game, Michigan led in assists 8-6 over Louisville. By the end of the game the Cardinals had blown Michigan out of the water, putting 12 dimes on the board over the last 23 minutes compared to just three for Michigan. This was everything from finding players open on the perimeter for easy threes to alley-oop dunks. While Michigan's offense was still good down the stretch because Trey Burke simply wouldn't let the Wolverines fall that far out of the game(he finished with 24 points despite sitting the majority of the first half), the Wolverines failed to move the ball and make Louisville's defense pay for pressuring the ball.
Ultimately over the last 23 minutes of game time Michigan showed itself to be much the same team we had seen for the majority of the season. The Wolverines looked young, defensively lost, and unable to find a rhythm on offense. Louisville -- the top seed in the tournament for a reason -- didn't need its press to fluster the Wolverine offense. The Cardinals simply picked apart the suddenly reeling Michigan defense.
Michigan, a team playing some of the best, most inspired basketball of the tournament, just couldn't squeeze the rest of the game in before midnight figuratively came and the strong interior defense and rebounding resurgence turned back into a pair of pumpkins.
Still, it was one helluva ride.