As the tip-off of Monday night’s national title game nears, talk of the backcourt matchup will surely take center stage. Louisville has the battle-tested duo of Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, while Michigan counters with Wooden Award winner Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.
But another pivotal matchup that may not get as much attention is the matchup in the middle between Gorgui Dieng for Louisville and Mitch McGary for Michigan. Each had a very different experience on Saturday night, with McGary posting a double-double (10 points and 12 rebounds) along with a team-high six assists against Syracuse, while Dieng did not score (0-for-1 from the floor) and had six rebounds and two blocked shots against Wichita State.
McGary has been a revelation for the Wolverines during the NCAA Tournament, averaging 16.0 points, 11.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.2 blocked shots per game in five games. Going back to the Big Ten Tournament, he is averaging 14.1 points, 10.9 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game over his last seven games. That rise in production has coincided with McGary’s increase in playing time, as he has played at least 23 minutes in all seven of those contests (30 or more minutes three times during the NCAA Tournament) and had a season-high 36 minutes against Syracuse.
Prior to Saturday night Dieng had a productive NCAA Tournament run, averaging 11.0 points (20-for-24 from the floor), 7.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocked shots and 1.8 steals per game in the Cardinals’ first four games. He is surely not a primary option for Louisville offensively, but he is the team’s leading rebounder (9.4 per game) and has more than twice as many blocked shots (80-2.5 per game) as anyone else on the team.
Dieng and McGary will surely challenge each other on both ends of the floor, and if one of them gets into foul trouble his team is likely to be at a disadvantage defensively and on the glass. McGary made good decisions with the ball against Syracuse’s zone defense, and he will be important in that regard again against Louisville’s aggressive defensive pressure.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.