Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Final Four preview: Louisville is favorite but not a guarantee for title

Midwest No. 1 Louisville vs. West No. 9 Wichita State

Breakdown: Louisville has outscored opponents by an average of 21.75 points this tournament and hasn’t lost since Feb. 9, a 104-101 loss to Notre Dame in five overtimes.

Besides winning the Big East tournament with a win over East No. 4 Syracuse, which is in the other Final Four matchup, Louisville has also taken down Michigan State and Duke in the NCAA tournament. Both Duke and Michigan were ranked in the top 10 this year, with Duke being No. 1 at a few points this year.

Louisville, led by junior guard Russ Smith (26 points per tournament game), has a variety of weapons and has shot 57 percent from the field (119-for-207) in four games, justifying its No. 1 overall seed.

But despite showing no signs of slowing down, Wichita State has been no slouch. It upset Pittsburgh by 18 points, took down No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 Ohio State and made the Final Four.

But for the Shockers to defeat Louisville, it needs to hit its 3-pointers. After an opening 2-for-10 performance against Pittsburgh from beyond the arc, Wichita State went 14-for-28 against Gonzaga, 5-for-12 against La Salle and 8-for-20 against Ohio State.

And the defense has held teams to 34 percent from the field in the tournament (79-for-230). But still it will need to have to play beyond its talent to defeat Louisville.

Prediction: Lousiville 73, Wichita State 59

I just don’t see Wichita State winning this game. Lousiville will take away the 3-pointer, and it will take advantage of mismatches inside to build a big lead.

Wichita State will play tough, but it won’t be enough.

South No. 4 Michigan vs. East No. 4 Syracuse

Breakdown: Michigan was as impressive as any team with its win over No. 3 Florida in the Elite Eight.

But the No. 5 seed in the Big Ten Tournament was a top-five ranked team for much of the season and have arguably one of the best point guards with sophomore Trey Burke. So the performance was hardly surprising.

Michigan shot xx percent from the 3-point line (10-for-19) against Florida and held it to 20 percent (2-for-10). And it also had one of the best comebacks of the tournament against No. 1 Kansas, erasing a 14-point deficit, in the Sweet 16 and obliterated VCU in the round of 32.

The Wolverines played in one of the best conferences all year and are tournament tested, which makes them very dangerous. However, Syracuse has one of the best defenses remaining, which it will need.

Syracuse has been in the top 10 in opponent’s field-goal percentage all year, and that has transferred over to its four tournament games – Montana State (11-for-54, 20 percent), California (22-for-56, 39 percent), Indiana (16-for-47, 34 percent) and Marquette (12-for-53, 22 percent).

And that is nothing compared to its perimeter defense in the tournament. Opponents are shooting only 15 percent (14-for-92).

The Orange zone has been impressive and is the perfect defense to force Burke out of the paint and the Michigan bigs from establishing itself on the glass.

However, Michigan can shoot, and if it knocks down a couple of 3-pointers or if freshman guard Nik Stauskas gets hot like the Florida game (6-for-6 from beyond the arc), Syracuse’s zone will have to switch to a man-to-man to contest the shots. That leaves the game open for Burke in the second half.

Prediction: Michigan 66, Syracuse 63

I think Michigan has the strengths to finally solve the Syracuse zone, but it won’t be easy.

This game should go down to the wire, but I just think Michigan is the better team overall.

But whichever team wins, I feel that Louisville/Wichita State will have some trouble in the title game.

Seeding Final Four:

1) Louisville – The favorite to win the title, but it will have its hands full against either the versatile Wolverines or the defense of the Orange.

2) Syracuse – I don’t think it has enough to get by Michigan, but the defense has been impressive enough to earn them this spot.

3) Michigan – An impressive run to the Final Four, but it should have lost against Kansas. Michigan cannot afford those types of lapses if it expects to win.

4) Wichita State – Sorry Shockers, but if you win, it will be two of the biggest upsets in the history of the tournament. I just don’t feel they have enough to make the final.

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