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2013 NCAA Tournament Final Four Preview: Wichita State

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The Final Four field is set, and Wichita State is by far the most shocking team to have made it. Despite getting a nine seed on Selection Sunday, the Shockers have rightfully earned a trip to Atlanta. Let’s check out their Final Four portfolio.

How they got here:

Wichita State enters the Final Four with a record of 30-8. During the regular season, their only wins against tournament teams came against VCU and Creighton, although they finished second to Creighton in both the Missouri Valley regular season and tournament. In the NCAA Tournament, the Shockers breezed past Pittsburgh, a team that’s a near mirror image of them, in the first round and then took down Gonzaga with an extraordinary shooting performance in the second round.

Wichita State played in the Sweet 16 as the higher seed for the first time in the tournament, taking care of 13 seed LaSalle before getting matched up with Ohio State in the regional finals. The Shockers raced out to a comfortable lead against the Buckeyes, but then they allowed Ohio State to get back in the game and barely managed to hang on, needing to make clutch plays late in the game in order to survive and advance.

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Key players:

Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall are the leading scorers for the Shockers, accounting for over 26 points and 12 rebounds per game. Hall is their biggest scoring threat inside while Early is their go-to player on the wing. At times, Early comes off the bench to provide a spark, but whether he starts or subs in he’s the most important player offensively, as he can score in several different ways.

Oregon transfer Malcolm Armstead is their best perimeter shooter; he’s scored a lot of points in this tournament, including some timely baskets, but he’s not always efficient and hasn’t shot a high percentage during the postseason. Ron Baker is another outside shooter that could be key for them. He was a combined 6-9 on three-point attempts against Gonzaga and LaSalle, but failed to make a field goal against both Pittsburgh and Ohio State. Baker is the Shocker’s x-factor, and if he can get going from the outside he’s a difference maker.

Biggest weakness:

The Shockers aren’t always efficient offensively. They shot lights out against Gonzaga, making 50% of their field goals and 14 of 28 three-point attempts, which enabled them to pull off the upset. However, Wichita State has been lucky to survive two games in this tournament in which they shot below 40%, something they may not be able to survive in the Final Four. In terms of offensive playmakers, the Shockers don’t come close to measuring up to the other three teams still playing. They can get hot the way they did against Gonzaga, but from game to game Wichita State can be rather inconsistent offensively.

Coaching factor:

Greg Marshall is one of the best mid-major coaches around. In 15 seasons as a Division one head coach, he has taken his teams, either Winthrop or Wichita State, to the NCAA Tournament 10 times. He also led the Shockers to an NIT Championship two seasons ago. However, his resume pails in comparison to the other three coaches. Marshall can coach, but he’s in uncharted territory and may be in over his head at the Final Four.

They will win the title because:

The Shockers are great at defending and rebounding, which along with some timely shooting has carried them through the tournament thus far, and can help carry them to two more wins. Wichita State is obviously the biggest underdog of the four teams in Atlanta, but they have the defense that can keep them in games and the rebounding abilities that will be able to get them the second chance points they’ll need to keep pace with teams that have better talent and more scorers. The Shockers will be able to keep up physically with any of the teams they’ll face in Atlanta, and with a good weekend shooting the ball they’ll be able to win the national championship.