Tonight's NCAA basketball championship game will feature a lot of bests. Louisville has been the best team in the country ever since the end of January, but Michigan is peaking at the right time.
On the sidelines, Monday's game will feature an excellent coaching matchup between Rick Pitino and John Beilein. On the court, there will be the best college basketball has had to offer this year in Michigan's Trey Burke and the best the NCAA tournament has had to offer in Louisville's Russ Smith.
Here's a preview, along with some matchup breakdowns and a prediction for tonight's title game.
All advanced statistics via KenPom.com (subscription required) unless otherwise noted.
Getting to Know Louisville
34-5 (14-4 Big East)
No. 1 (Midwest Region)
How They Got Here
Def. North Carolina A&T (16), 79-48; Def. Colorado State (8), 82-56; Def. Oregon (12), 77-69; Def. Duke (2), 85-63; Def. Wichita State (9), 72-68.
After making the Final Four last year, Louisville expected to be in this position. The Cardinals started fast out of the gate, winning 16 of their first 17 games.
Then Louisville lost three in a row, dropping games against Syracuse, Villanova, and Georgetown. The offense struggled, and many people around the country cooled on Louisville's title chances.
Since then, the Cardinals have won 18 of 19 games with the lone defeat coming in the five-overtime thriller at Notre Dame. No NCAA team in the country has played better basketball than Louisville since the end of January.
Getting to Know Michigan
No. 4 (South Region)
How They Got Here
Def. South Dakota State (13), 71-56; Def. VCU (5), 78-53; Def. Kansas (1), 87-85 OT; Def. Florida (3), 79-59; Def. Syracuse (4), 61-56.
Michigan is one of the youngest teams in the country. The Wolverines only have two upperclassmen, juniors Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jordan Morgan, in their playing rotation, and three freshmen are in the starting lineup.
Despite its youth, Michigan began the season 20-1 and climbed to No. 1 in the country the last week of January. Then the Wolverines hit a few rough patches, losing six of their last 12 games leading into the NCAA tournament.
Now, Michigan has returned to its early-season form, winning three of its five NCAA tournament games by double digits.
Coaching Matchup: Rick Pitino vs. John Beilein
Rick Pitino is in his 27th full season as a college head coach. He has taken three different schools—Providence, Kentucky and Louisville—to the Final Four, and this is his seventh time overall.
If Louisville wins the national title, Pitino would become the first coach in the history of college basketball to win a national title at two different schools. He won the 1996 national championship at Kentucky.
From junior college to Division I and everything in between, John Beilein has been a head coach at every level of college basketball. On top of that, he has won everywhere he has roamed the sidelines, with his teams finishing above .500 in 31 of his 35 seasons.
This is Beilein's deepest run into the NCAA tournament. Previously, he made the Elite Eight in 2005 at West Virginia before, coincidentally, losing to Louisville and Rick Pitino.
Louisville's Offense vs. Michigan's Defense
Louisville is at its best when attacking the basket and not settling for outside shots. That starts with Russ Smith, who is electric with the ball in his hands.
Outside of Smith, there are a number of guys who could step up to get double-digit points. Eight players have scored at least 10 points in a game for Louisville during the NCAA tournament. Luke Hancock was the latest unlikely hero, scoring 20 points off the bench against Wichita State.
The big question all year for the Wolverines has been whether they played good enough defense to win the national title. Things didn't look great when they gave up 84 points in a loss at lowly Penn State on Feb. 27.
However, Michigan has picked it up in the NCAA tournament, holding four of its five opponents to fewer than 60 points. Overall, teams have shot 44.6 percent from the field and just 24 percent from beyond the arc against the Wolverines.
Key to the Matchup: Louisville's ability to penetrate
Louisville will try to get into the lane, and whether the Cardinals can succeed will go a long way in determining the outcome of the game. Michigan does not have an intimidating shot-blocker down low, so the Wolverines will have to make things difficult for Louisville on the perimeter.
Michigan's Offense vs. Louisville's Defense
Michigan ranks first nationally in offensive efficiency. The Wolverines are excellent at taking care of the ball, which begins with Trey Burke. Burke does a nice job scoring and distributing to a number of outside sharpshooters.
Down low, Mitch McGary has had a breakout NCAA tournament, averaging 16 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. He brings great energy and provides the Wolverines a legit scoring threat down low.
Louisville ranks first nationally in defensive efficiency. The Cardinals like to get out and pressure the perimeter. They have 56 steals so far in their five games in the NCAA tournament.
Center Gorgui Dieng provides a nice security blanket for Louisville, averaging 2.5 blocks per game. If a perimeter player gets beat out front, he knows Dieng can often bail him out and protect the rim.
Key to the Matchup: Michigan's guards against Louisville's pressure
Michigan's offense ranks first in turnover percentage, while Louisville's defense ranks second at forcing them. The Wolverines already carved up VCU in the NCAA tournament, and if Michigan takes care of the ball, it should feel good about its chances.
Louisville's Strength and Weakness