If the NCAA were a money-making, professional sports league, wait, scratch that. If the NCAA were a professional sports league, then the Final Four getting underway could not come soon enough. In the hours following last Sunday’s action which was already marred by Kevin Ware’s horrible injury, the NCAA had to deal with an ugly situation at Rutgers, a scandal at Auburn and a combative press conference by NCAA President Mark Emmert.
Thankfully, Saturday is here and that means that national semi-finals will get cranked up this evening. It is certainly my hope and that of many others that both of these games are competitive and go down to the wire following less than spectacular elite eight games. Personally, I find these two games to be very intriguing for a variety of reasons including the coaches, the styles and the overall freshness of some of the faces. Let’s break down the games.
1 Louisville (-10.5) vs 9 Wichita State – The question for me is not who wins but whether the Cards can cover the spread. I’ve had Louisville all season long and especially heading into the tournament. It isn’t that I don’t think the Shockers can’t win because they most certainly can but there are just too many factors favoring Rick Pitino’s team at the moment.
First is the pressure especially by guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith. Louisville doesn’t press the way teams like Arkansas did back in the Nolan Richardson days. Their goal is to simply make it difficult for you to get into your half-court offense and if they happen to get some turnovers at the same time then they’ll take them.
Another huge factor is Gorgui Dieng who has been a major presence in the paint for Louisville. Carl Hall and Malcolm Armstead have had really solid tournaments to this point but I can’t see their best games being played the pressure out front and then Dieng waiting in the paint. The loss of Kevin Ware will hurt, but I like Louisville to win but they will not cover as WSU closes the gap at the end of the game.
4 Michigan (-2) vs 4 Syracuse – Some think that the only stat you need to know heading into the late game is that Michigan coach John Beilein has never beaten Syracuse Head Coach Jim Boeheim. The two used to square off in the Big East when Beilein was coaching at West Virgnia. The difference this time around could be the overall level of talent that Beilein has at his disposal.
The Wolverines will have to solve the Orange’s 2-3 zone which has held opponents in the tourney to 15% shooting from three point range. Last week against Marquette, Syracuse held the Eagles to a grand total of just 12 field goals for the entire game. If any team in the tournament can manipulate the zone it could be Michigan. Trey Burke is the best player in the country at driving and dishing or kicking it out to the three point shooters and Michigan will need early success from long range in order to keep the zone from collapsing on Mitch McGary, the talented big man.
Syracuse is no slouch on the offensive end either though and Michigan must play better defensively in the paint then they did against Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen. The Wolverines have struggled at times with interior defense and the Orange have a guy who could expose that in Michael Carter-Williams who is long and athletic. C.J. Fair can be a threat with his mid-range shooting as well that serves as a compliment to Carter-Williams on the inside.
Two other key things swing the pick in favor of Michigan and those would be the fact they do not foul much and they turn the ball over less than any team in the tournament. I expect this game to be extremely close but I’ll take Trey Burke and the Wolverines to win by four in the end.