2013 NCAA Tournament Final Four Preview: Louisville-Wichita State, Syracuse-Michigan
If you had Louisville in your bracket at the start of the NCAA Tournament, you do not deserve congratulations for your choice still being alive. While the Cardinals may be the best team, and very possibly will win the title, you get credit for picking the favorite out of 68 choices if and only if they end up cutting down the nets. In 1919 the legendary race horse Man o' War lost his only race. The rival that beat him was named Upset. It would be an upset if Wichita State beat Louisville, but it is not out of the realm of possibilities. To beat the Cardinals you must not turn the ball over.
Louisville ranks second in the NCAA in steals per game and turnover margin. Their ability to force mistakes leads to easy transition baskets for the Cardinals. Wichita State wants a slow paced, half court game. The Shockers average only 13 turnovers a contest. If Wichita can avoid throwing the ball away, they are the superior rebounding team. Both squads are excellent on defense. The Shockers are 8-4 in games decided by six points or less this year. Louisville is 5-4 in similar tight games.
The second game of the night features Michigan's precision offense against Syracuse's signature zone. The Wolverines rank sixth in the country in field goal percentage and turn the ball over less frequently than any team in the NCAA. The Orange have their best defensive team in decades. Only two squads in the nation hold opponents to an uglier shooting percentage than SU. Blocking shots, getting steals, and frustrating opponents on offense is what Jim Boeheim's team is built around this year.
Most draft experts expect Michigan's trio of Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Glen Robinson III to be first round picks. Syracuse guard Michael Carter Williams is also likely to be selected in the opening round. Interestingly, Louisville only has borderline first round picks in Russ Smith and Gorgui Dieng. Wichita State does not have an NBA prospect.
Louisville has been super impressive during a 14 game winning streak, but Gregg Marshall coached teams never get out-toughed. Will the Shockers be able to handle pressure for 40 minutes? In the second game the entire story is Michigan's offense against Syracuse's defense. Which unit is better?
The best player remaining in the dance is Burke though Smith has a pretty good argument. Michigan over Louisville is the pick, but I'll take Wichita +10.5 on Saturday, and cheer for the Shockers as if I've spent the last 48 years waiting it avenge their 1965 national semifinal loss to UCLA. They didn't pull the upset over John Wooden's Bruins, but Rick Pitino, who owns horses, should know that sometimes the favorite loses.