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COLUMN

Louisville vs. Michigan is win-win for title game

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For more sports commentary, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1.

Hard to root against either team in tonight's finale

Monday, April 8, 2013 - 12:01 am

My NCAA men's basketball national championship dilemma is simple: If I pull for Michigan, am I rooting against Louisville's Kevin Ware?

I don't want to root against Ware. The sentimental guy inside me would love to see Ware and the championship trophy become inseparable about midnight tonight, with the memories of his horrific broken leg replaced by a starring role in CBS' saccharine-filled “One Shining Moment.”

On the other hand, I feel allegiance to the Big Ten (or B1G, if I may be so hip) after spending my lifetime here. This Michigan team, though I'm not normally a Michigan fan, is pretty likeable, with the “sons of” duo of Glenn Robinson III and Tim Hardaway Jr., along with aptly named Trey Burke and overnight sensation Mitch McGary.

McGary looks like he stepped right out of “Hoosiers” with his game and his haircut. And he's from Chesterton. Tell me again why Michigan gets the Indiana players? Michigan coach John Beilein seems like the type of college lifer who deserves to win one for his years in the gym.

Louisville's Rick Pitino has a title already. Plus, Louisville was the No.1 seed in the entire tournament. Who really wants the NCAA selection committee to get one right after all this time?

And yet, Louisville and Ware seem like they deserve the title for reasons having nothing to do with basketball and everything to do with a fitting finale for a frightening and freak accident. The way Ware's teammates reacted to his injury in the Duke game (crying, moaning, falling to their knees) and responded to his pleas to keep winning (they kept winning) had to strike even the most hardened cynic with some empathy.

This much I know: Louisville vs. Michigan has the makings of a great game, provided the referees stay out of the way.

Louisville was pushed to the brink by Wichita State but responded on a night when the Cardinals didn't shoot or run their offense particularly well. They found a way to win, which is a standard cliché of a champion. Michigan, meanwhile, was flustered and frustrated by the Syracuse zone and tried to give the game way with a too-early stall and blatant animosity toward the idea of making free throws. Yet, like Louisville, the Wolverines won in spite of their deficiencies.

This game could be a high-scoring affair, which would be much welcomed after the ugliness of the first half of the Louisville-Wichita State game and the ugliness of every half involving Syracuse.

Louisville might be able to make a dent in Michigan with its fullcourt pressure defense, although Ware's absence hurts the Cardinals' depth. Michigan might be able to match Louisville in the transition game, and finish with McGary's size and uncanny ability to rebound and suddenly pass like LeBron James.

The team's stars, Peyton Siva and Burke, had sub-par games in the semifinals on Saturday, so one or both are due for redemption.

Pitino seems a bit better at calming his team than Beilein. Michigan looked panicky toward the end of the Syracuse game, not a trait that inspires confidence if this game heads down to the wire. On the other hand, Michigan showed incredible resilience in beating Kansas in the Sweet 16, coming from behind and refusing to accept defeat.

I like the fact the NCAA hoops title game comes two days after the semifinals. Unlike football, there's no extensive buildup to wear everyone out with analysis and talk prior to the game being played.

Both teams have won five games, sometimes when it seemed all was lost. Both teams are searching for something their school hasn't tasted in a long, long time.

My inner fan leans Michigan. Those B1G ties are hard to ignore. But that's my geographic bias showing through.

My heart leans Louisville because of Ware. I saw the replay of his injury once. I reacted like most everyone else, wincing and turning away. But the more I've heard him interviewed since the injury, the more impressed I've become with his attitude and outlook. From my view in front of the television, he seems like a great kid who ought to have that moment glory for his unimaginable agony.

The analyst in me leans Louisville, too. The Cards have the defensive tenacity to disrupt Michigan's offense. They have the athleticism to deal with Burke, Robinson and Hardaway. They'll be more than happy to bang elbows with McGary.

But unless you're a Kentucky or Michigan State (or maybe Indiana) fan, it's hard to root against either of these teams.

If we could get some great officiating, too, it could be a perfect finale. But I'm not about to predict that.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.