My guess is that few people thought Syracuse could reach the Final Four this season and I guarantee you even fewer had the Shockers of Wichita State making it either but here they are. What we now know is that two pieces of the Final Four pie are in place. Michigan and Florida will battle in one game today while Louisville and Duke go at it in the other. The winners of each game will complete the Final Four for the 2013 season.
Certainly the Orange have long been a powerhouse under Jim Boeheim and this season they often showed signs of being dominant but they also looked average at times this year too. What is crystal clear right now is that the infamous Syracuse 2-3 zone is stifling opposing offenses to a crushing tune. Yesterday the Orange defeated soon to be former Big East cohort Marquette 55-39 in a game that left Eagles Head Coach Buzz Williams full of praise for the Orange. Williams said his team “tried everything they had” in the loss.
The Orange will now await the winner of the game today between the Gators and the Wolverines.
For the Shockers, we really shouldn’t be too surprised by this team. I think there were many who thought a mid-major could make a serious run this season but how many pegged Wichita State is a whole other matter. WSU is headed to Atlanta following a 74-70 win over 2nd seed Ohio State. The loss ended the Buckeyes win streak at 11 games and the Shockers become the first Missouri Valley Conference team to make the Final Four since Indiana State in 1979. You recall this “Larry Bird guy” playing for the Sycamores back then.
Wichita State has now defeated number one seed Gonzaga and number two seed Ohio State in consecutive games. The task will get no easier as they will get the winner between the Cardinals and Blue Devils in the National Semi-Finals.
Looking ahead to today
1 Louisville vs 2 Duke – Louisville has arguably been the most impressive team of the tournament so far averaging over 80 points per game. In the Sweet 16, they jumped to an early lead and then kept Oregon at bay most of the game leading by ten most of the game. Duke turned in a pretty impressive performance against Michigan State limiting the Spartans to just a handful of field goals in the second half.
The question for me in this game will be can Duke handle the pressure of the Cardinals? Both of these teams have very good guard play which then begs the question of who can get the better of the other in the paint? Duke defeated Louisville 76-71 way back in the early stages of the season but the Cards were without Gorgui Dieng who leads Louisville in rebounding.
As impressed as I was with Duke against Michigan State, I just think Russ Smith is playing too well for the Cards and overall they are too athletic right now for Duke.
#4 Michigan vs #3 Florida – Both of these teams played very intriguing games in the Sweet 16. Michigan roared back behind Trey Burke to defeat top-seeded Kansas in overtime. Florida fell behind early to NCAA Tournament darling Florida Gulf Coast, but the Gators methodically chipped away at the Eagles and let their interior dominance take over.
Wolverines’ freshman Mitch McGary was outstanding against the Jayhawks scoring 25 points but can he handle the strength of the Gators inside? The Gators do not possess a guard as good as Trey Burke but they are deep at the position and can run several guys at them. If Michigan can shoot the three and can keep the Gators frustrated in the half-court offense then they have a shot. The interior defense has troubled them all year and I think it will be their undoing in a tight Florida victory.