Let's get this out of the way: Expecting Michigan and Louisville to deliver a performance equally thrilling and entertaining as the one the schools did in the 2013 national championship is not fair. The Cardinals' 82-76 win was one of the best title games in any sport in recent memory.
Nevertheless, there should be high expectations for this second-round matchup between one of the hottest teams in America, No. 7 Michigan, and one that lost three of their final games during the regular season and conference tournament but remains a dangerous title threat, No. 2 Louisville.
The Wolverines won a shootout against Oklahoma State in Friday's first round with lights-out perimeter shooting (16-for-29, including 11-for-15 in the second half) and just four turnovers. Their 92 points was the second-highest total since December and represented a near-flawless offensive showing in a game that needed it. The Cowboys shot 55 percent from the floor, including 7-for-16 from deep, and made 14 of 16 free throws.
Michigan then watched Louisville receive a first-half scare from 15th-seeded Jacksonville State before building a nine-point halftime lead and overpowered the Gamecocks in the second to win, 78-63. It was far from perfect but the Cardinals still committed just six turnovers and 12 fouls and grabbed 16 offensive boards.
Louisville senior Mangok Mathiang is the only player remaining from either team that was on the bench for the 2013 title game, though Mathiang didn't play after redshirting as a true freshman. In addition to personnel turnover, these teams don't resemble their title-seeking predecessors four years ago in the slightest.
The Cardinals won 31 games with a fast-paced offense led by elite distributors who facilitated high-percentage shots after defensive quickness and outstanding rebounding. This year, they're taking fewer risks with better ball security, offensive rebounding, blocked shots and much better perimeter shooting.
The Trey Burke-led Wolverines, meanwhile, used three-point shooting, ball movement and few dumb fouls to come within minutes of their first title since 1989. This year's group also gets hot from beyond the arc and uses smart defensive aggressiveness but they're weaker on the offensive glass and don't rely as heavily on their backcourt scoring.
Moritz Wagner and D.J. Wilson's versatility on both ends have confused teams for much of the last month, with Wilson particularly dominating the Cowboys on Friday.
Louisville has the frontcourt depth and flexibility to match up with Wilson and Wagner, something Oklahoma State couldn't do for 40 minutes. Between Jaylen Johnson and Deng Adel, the Cardinals might not be forceful inside the paint but they can force the Wolverines out to the perimeter, where Louisville is holding opponent to a 31-percent clip.
With how Derrick Walton and Michigan are playing, betting against them might be foolish, even if they're facing their toughest opponent of the season. Still, the smart bet is on Louisville to make the Wolverines uncomfortable enough offensively and advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
Louisville 80, Michigan 74