Reporting Matt Ryan
64 games have been played in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, with three more to go until the nets are cut down at the Georgia Dome. This year’s Final Four includes two Big East schools, one from the Big Ten, and yet another surprising mid-major arriving on the national stage.
Here’s a preview of the teams playing in tonight’s doubleheaders.
6:09pm – CBS -#9 Wichita State Shockers vs. #1 Louisville Cardinals
La Salle and Florida Gulf Coast made unexpected runs in March and their players have a lot to be proud of this season, but Wichita State has easily secured the title of Cinderella this year. The Shockers are only the second 9-seed (first was Penn in 1979) to make it all the way to the Final Four. They upset Pittsburgh, Gonzaga, and Ohio State along the way, but now face their toughest challenge yet against tournament favorite Louisville.
The Cardinals have won 14 in a row and are the only team left in the field returning from last year’s Final Four. They won an emotional game against Duke in the Elite Eight, after sophomore guard Kevin Ware suffered a compound fracture to his right leg. Rick Pitino’s squad was ahead 21-20 with 6:41 left in the first half when Ware left the game. The whole team looked shaken up, but they pulled through and outscored Duke, 64-43, the rest of the way.
Louisville entered the Big Dance as a huge favorite and now has even more motivation to win their third national title in school history. Wichita State has had an unforgettable season, but it will more than likely be midnight for Cinderella against Russdiculousness and the Cardinals in Atlanta. However, if the Shockers pull off their greatest upset (and shocker) yet, they would be 40 minutes away from becoming the lowest seed to ever win the Final Four.
8:49pm - CBS – #4 Michigan Wolverines vs. #4 Syracuse Orange
The other matchup in the Final Four includes a pair of four seeds, both of who were put on upset alert in the earlier rounds of the tournament. Now these teams are facing off for a chance to play for their second championship in school history. It will be a showdown between an elite offense filled with NBA prospects and a stout defense that has been giving up fewer points than some college football teams recently.
Michigan is led by AP Player of the Year – Trey Burke (the first Wolverine to receive honor since Cazzie Russel in 1966). He may get most of the attention on John Beilein’s squad, but everyone in their starting five is a reliable scoring option. Alongside the Wolverine’s star point guard in the backcourt; Nik Stauskas is already an elite three-point shooter as a freshman, while 6′ 6” Tim Hardaway Jr. is a difficult matchup for any guard. The Wolverines also have diaper dandies who have become dominant players in the froncourt. Mitch McGary has emerged as defensive stopper and Glenn Robinson III is delivering one impressive dunk after another.
Their offense has been on a tear during the NCAA Tournament, but Michigan hasn’t faced a defense that compares to how Syracuse has played in their last four games. The Orange have held their opponents to a 28.9% field goal shooting and have been even tougher to score against from beyond the arc, limiting the other team to a 15.4% success rate (14 for 91). Indiana scored a season low 50 points against Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen and Cody Zeller was held to 10 or fewer points, for only the sixth time this season. Their defense played even better against Marquette in the regional finals when they limited the Golden Eagles to only 39 points.
As great as the Orange have been at stopping the other team from scoring, Jim Boeheim’s squad has struggled to make baskets themselves at times. The Orange are shooting 43.3% from the field in the NCAA Tournament and that figure drops to 40.2%, when not including their 81-34 blowout over Montana. At one point against California in the round of 32, Syracuse went 12 minutes without making a shot in the paint. A scoring drought could mean trouble against Michigan, with anyone of their starters capable of putting up 20+ points. However, the Wolverines struggled in Big Ten play against great defensive teams like Ohio State and Wisconsin, losing of both their matchups against the Buckeyes and Badgers.
This will be an intriguing showdown between two contrasting styles of play.