But it was not enough today against No. 7 seed Michigan, which marches on after a 73-69 victory Sunday afternoon in Indianapolis.
In almost every respect, Michigan played the quintessential John Beilein game today against No. 2 seed Louisville, all the way from the precision of its tactics to the Super Soaker-wielding coach in the locker room after the game. Say hello to my little friend, he says, waving to opposing defenders who know not whether to help on shooters, double down or posts or, in a fit of frustration, find themselves lost on the vast, floor-spaced plains, covering no one, doing nothing.
Michigan shot "just" 35 percent from three today and was out-attempted from beyond the arc by the Cardinals (17 attempts to Louisville's 20). But, outside of that, Michigan's victory this afternoon in Indianapolis came from a familiar storybook.
The Wolverines out-executed the larger, more physically imposing Cardinals, who trotted out a 7-foot Cairene from its bench when a member of its starting forest of frontcourters was felled by fouls. Also, see if this sounds familiar: Michigan turned it over just six times against an aggressive Louisville defense (see also: VCU, 2013).
Michigan also did something Beilein has done numerous times now in his Ann Arbor tenure (both in games and long term): adjusted.
Long known as a perimeter-oriented roster, Michigan has seen its focus shift subtly in the other direction this season. Yes, Derrick Walton is still the heart and soul of this team, and was every bit of that Friday afternoon against Oklahoma State. But just like Beilein's offenses shifted away from being relatively ball screen-averse, the offense has evolved far beyond what Michigan was doing, even as of January. With two skilled bigs, capable of hitting the outside shot and flummoxing bigs with above-average handles, Michigan can play position-less basketball.
Want to leave them open? They'll bury a three in your eye. Want to play tight man-to-man? They'll cut and find ways to finish at the rim. Want to guard them in the post one-one-one? Well, Moritz Wagner showed what he does to that defense today.
The versatility of Michigan's frontcourt options paid off again, just like it did twice against Purdue. Wagner tallied a career-high 26 points (11-for-14 from the field), many of them coming on easy spins against Deng Adel et al in the post or blow-bys from the perimeter.
Wagner's shot chart is ... good.
But there were moments when the game appeared ready to escape Michigan in predictable fashion, snowed under by a barrage of Louisville offensive rebounds and a disjointed offense at the other end.
Michigan tied things up late in the first half, but an 8-0 Louisville run in the final minute sent it into the half not feeling great about itself. It was a first-half finish reminiscent of the 2013 title game, in which Luke Hancock erased Spike Albrecht's transcendent performance with several big shots of his own.
Louisville's Mangok Mathiang put his team up nine with 16:10 to play. Not long after, Quentin Snider lined up a triple for a chance to give Louisville a 12-point lead -- it wouldn't have been insurmountable, but there are points in games where things either keep going in one direction, or, they reverse course.
Luckily for Michigan, Snider was off all afternoon, finishing 0-for-9 from the field (0-for-7 from beyond the arc).
The Wolverines slowly chipped away, tying the game at 51-51 after a pair of Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman free throws with just over nine minutes remaining. Abdur-Rahkman put Michigan ahead with a layup not long after, and Michigan never trailed again the rest of the way.
D.J. Wilson added a jumper, Wagner buried a triple and Walton, who struggled with his shot all game, buried his second triple of the contest to put Michigan up 61-57 with 5:55 left.
Although Walton struggled from the field, he contributed when it counted, first with the aforementioned three and again with 30 seconds remaining on a layup to put the Wolverines up 69-65. As has typically been the case with the senior point guard, even when his shot isn't falling, he's found ways to leave his mark on a game -- in addition to 11 points, he tallied seven rebounds, six assists and zero turnovers.
Louisville grabbed 15 offensive rebounds, good for a 45 percent offensive rebounding percentage. Despite that, and the fact that the Cardinals out-attempted the Wolverines from three, Michigan punched back with the Wilson-Wagner one-two, for which Pitino had no answer. Seemingly content to afford the skilled Michigan bigs one-on-one opportunities and trade two-point baskets, that strategy burned the Cardinals.
After scoring 28 points in the first half, Michigan dropped 45 in the second. The Wolverines adjusted and proceeded to exploit the mismatches they were provided.
The result? A career day for Wagner, a 17-point day for Wilson and another Beilein team advancing past the opening weekend of the tournament.
At this point, forget about the seeds: Michigan is a good team that picked it up at the right time. Whether you want to credit Maverick Morgan, a pair of sophomores progressing rapidly or a senior igniting a team, the Wolverines have hit their stride over the last two months.
Whichever team Michigan has to face next will have its hands full. It doesn't seem like this Michigan team has any intention of seeing its season end anytime soon.