The NCAA Tournament has finally reached the National Semifinals better known as the Final Four. After the Big 10 threatened to monopolize the weekend with four teams in the regional finals, Michigan is the only representative from the team most agree is the best in the nation. Instead of the Big 10, it’s the Big East that has multiple teams in the Final Four after Syracuse and Louisville won their regions and have a chance to meet for the fourth time this season as they play for the National Championship if they win their semis today.
With all the conference realignment, it’s hard to keep track of what conference stands to benefit from these teams deep runs. In fact both the Orange and the Cardinals are bolting the Big East for the ACC next year. So is a Syracuse-Louisville final a great thing for the ACC or the Big East?
Either way, I have a feeling we’ll have plenty of time to talk about it since I expect both to win their games today. Here’s my picks and analysis of the first game tonight: Louisville and Wichita State.
This first game tips as 6:09 at the Georgia Dome and can be seen on CBS and all their streaming apps and options. Make sure you settle in and enjoy this game where there’s clearly an underdog, and even the favorite has quite the storyline on their side with the horrific injury to Kevin Ware in their last game.
Wichita State has made it all the way to the Final Four despite being a nine-seed and being picked by many to exit the tournament in the first round. The Shockers have gone on an incredible run eliminating eighth-seeded Pittsburgh, top-seeded Gonzaga, 13th-seeded LaSalle, and second-seeded Ohio State.
The Shockers rely on Malcolm Armstead as the creator in their offense and he’s been able to average almost 16 points per game so far in the tourney. On the season, he led Wichita State in points, assists, and steals. Down low, Cleanthony Early leads the teams in boards with seven a game but can also step out and hit three’s as he did against Gonzaga.
The Shockers offense will have to deal with Louisville’s top-notch defense that can really crank up the pressure and has been able to power Lousville to wins in their last 14 games and 17 of their last 18. Opponents tend to have long scoreless stretches against the Cards as guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith pressure up top and Gorgui Dieng protects the rim.
The Cardinals guards are also their most dynamic scorers with Smith getting the Most Outstanding Player of the region after averging 26 points a game so far this tournament. With Siva and Smith getting it done slashing and driving to the hoop, Dieng also is able to grab offensive boards or take dump-off passes and slam them home.
Louisville entered the tournament as the number one overall seed and have definitely shown why as they’ve steamrolled their way to the Final Four. They come into this game favored by 10 and I’d take the Cards and give the points since only Oregon has stayed within 10 of Louisville in their last nine games. Wichita State deserves credit for their Cinderella run, but I think it ends for them tonight as they face the Cardinals who are just too quick and explosive and whose defense is too intense for the Missouri Valley Conference darlings to upset.