The tip-off marathon, the preseason tournaments, the grind of conference play, the league tournaments, the first three weeks of the big dance; it's all led us here to Monday night and Louisville vs. Michigan. Let's feed your brain before the Cardinals and Wolverines tip this thing off in Atlanta.
1. You're About To See Some Really Good Guards
Trey Burke had an off night in Michigan's win over Syracuse on Saturday, but the sophomore still enters what will probably be his last college game as the winner of both the Wooden Award and the Associated Press National Player of the Year award. That said, Burke has not been the best guard in this tournament. That distinction would belong to Louisville's Russ Smith, who has scored 21 points or more in all five of the Cardinals' NCAA Tournament games. His 21 points against Wichita State on Saturday helped him break Louisville legend Darrell Griffith's school record for most points in a single tournament.
All season long the debate over the best backcourt in the country has come down to Louisville's Smith and Peyton Siva, and Michigan's Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. It's only fitting that we'll finally get an answer on the last night of the season.
2. Pitino Shoots For No. 2
As crazy as it is to think about, no coach in the history of Division-I college basketball has won a national championship with two different programs. Rick Pitino, who became the first coach to lead three different schools to the Final Four in 2005, will look to change that on Monday night. Pitino won his first and only title with Kentucky in 1996, and now will be looking to pull off the same feat with their arch-rivals.
3. Let's Go Blue
Each of the last nine national champions has had blue as one of its primary school colors. Michigan's primary school colors are maize and blue, while Louisville's are red and black. The last non-blue national champion was Syracuse - whose only official school color is orange - back in 2003.
4. Four Seeds In The Title Game
Michigan is looking to become just the second No. 4 seed to win the national championship. The 1997 Arizona Wildcats are the only team to ever pull off the feat, doing so by defeating...wait for it...Rick Pitino and his last Kentucky Wildcat team. A year earlier, Syracuse became the first four seed to make the title game, but their championship hopes were thwarted by...wait for it...Rick Pitino and the Kentucky Wildcats.
So after tonight, three No. 4 seeds will have played for the national championship, and all three will have gone up against Rick Pitino.
5. Cardinals Are Perfect In Title Games
This is Louisville's 10th trip to the Final Four, but just their third appearance in the national title game. The other two times the Cardinals played for it all, they wound up bringing the big trophy back to the Derby City. U of L defeated UCLA 59-54 in 1980, and Duke 72-69 in 1986.
6. McGary Has Been A Beast
Though most of the talk about "star power" in tonight's game has centered around the guards, it's Michigan freshman big man Mitch McGary who might be the team's MVP during this current run. McGary, who averaged just 6.2 points and 5.1 rebounds during Big Ten play, has posted averages of 16.0 points and 11.6 rebounds in five NCAA Tournament games. If the Wolverines cut down the nets Monday night, don't be surprised to see McGary, and not Trey Burke, holding the Most Outstanding Player trophy.
7. Louisville Looks For First (And Last) Big East Title
Since the tournament expanded in 1985, no program has won multiple national championships while representing multiple conferences. Louisville, which was a member of the Metro Conference during its last title in 1986, can change that with a win tonight.
8. Beilein Seeking First Title
Michigan coach John Beilein will be coaching in a national championship game for the first time on Monday night. Every champion since Kansas in 2008 (Bill Self) has been coached by someone who had already won a title. Beilein admitted on Sunday that the moment was a bit hard for him to grasp.
"It's really an eerie feeling," Beilein said. "This is it. There's two teams playing, and it's us and Louisville."
9. Both Coaches Are The Same Age
Though Rick Pitino's resume might lead you to believe that he's been on Earth a decade or so longer than John Beilein, the two are actually almost exactly the same age.
Pitino's age: 60 years, 6 months, 21 days.
Belein's age: 60 years, 2 months, 3 days.
10. Classic Showdown Of Offense Vs. Defense
Things are never as simple as they appear on paper, but if they were, this one would be worth getting excited about (it is anyway). The last two teams standing in college basketball are stat guru Ken Pomeroy's No. 1 offensive team (Michigan) and his No. 1 defensive team (Louisville).
You can't ask for much more from a national championship game.