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The Carthage Press
  • NCAA Tournament: Louisville the team to beat in Final Four

  • It all comes down to this. Every year, more than 300 teams start down a road they hope will end at this destination: the Final Four. After two weeks of Madness, Louisville, Wichita State, Michigan and Syracuse made it. Now someone has to win it.
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  • It all comes down to this.
    Every year, more than 300 teams start down a road they hope will end at this destination: the Final Four.
    After two weeks of Madness, Louisville, Wichita State, Michigan and Syracuse made it.
    Now someone has to win it.
    The favorite is Louisville, but anything can happen when March turns into April.
    A look at this year's Final Four matchups:
    LOUISVILLE (33-5) vs. WICHITA STATE (30-8)
    LOUISVILLE
    ROAD TO THE FINAL FOUR
    Beat No. 16 North Carolina A&T 79-48; beat No. 8 Colorado State 82-56; beat No. 12 Oregon 77-69; beat No. 2 Duke 85-63.
    STAR
    Russ Smith was the MOP of the Midwest Regional after matching his career high of 31 points against Oregon and then scoring 23 against Duke. The junior guard with the nickname "Russdiculous" for his wide-open style of play is averaging 26.0 points and 3.3 steals in the four tournament games, well above his 18.9 and 2.2 for the season. He may have the reputation as a wild shooter but he is 42.3 percent for the season from the field, including shooting 50 percent or better in three of the NCAA games.
    COACH
    Rick Pitino is the only coach to have taken three different schools to the Final Four (Kentucky, Providence) and he has the Cardinals here for the second straight year as well as in 2005. His 46-16 record in the NCAA tournament is third among active coaches by winning percentage. His national championship came with Kentucky in 1996. On Monday, Pitino will find out if he has been elected to the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.
    KEY POINT
    The Cardinals came into the tournament for the second straight year as Big East tournament champions. Like they did in the conference tournament, the Cardinals made their mark with defense. Their 14-game winning streak is their longest since 2003-04. Their 20 steals against North Carolina A&T were an NCAA tournament record. In the four NCAA games they are averaging 22.6 points per game off turnovers.
    WICHITA STATE
    ROAD TO THE FINAL FOUR
    Beat No. 8 Pittsburgh 73-55; beat No. 1 Gonzaga 76-70; beat No. 13 La Salle 72-58; beat No. 2 Ohio State 70-66.
    STAR
    Senior guard Malcolm Armstead is averaging 15.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.0 steals in the NCAA tournament. The MOP of the West Regional, Armstead sat out last season after transferring from Oregon. His floor leadership and defense were the difference in the regional final win over Ohio State when he struggled with his shooting, finishing 6 of 21 from the field.
    Page 2 of 3 - COACH
    Gregg Marshall is in his sixth season with the Shockers and he has them in the tournament for the second straight year although 2012 ended with a first-round loss to VCU. He led Winthrop to the NCAA tournament seven times from 1999-2007 with one win, as an 11 seed over Notre Dame in 2007. He has Wichita State on the best four-year run in school history and he has been selected Missouri Valley Conference coach of the year the last two seasons.
    KEY POINT
    The Shockers have been playing solid defense in the tournament (62.2) while scoring between 70 and 76 points in the four games. They may have gotten a break with La Salle advancing to the regional semifinals but the Shockers beat No. 1 Gonzaga in the third round and No. 2 Ohio State to get to the Final Four for the first time since 1965. If they are to move on, the Shockers will need to keep their balance on offense and continue their strong play on the boards (plus-4.3).
    THE SKINNY
    Wichita State has to make sure it doesn't turn the ball over and hit shots so Louisville can't get its press in gear. Nobody in the country turns turnovers into points the way the Cardinals do. Louisville will also have an emotional edge with Kevin Ware, who broke his leg in a hideous fashion against Duke, in Atlanta on crutches to cheer on his teammates.
    THE PICK
    Louisville has dominated teams in the last three weeks with only one team getting single digits. Look for the Cardinals to just keep pulling away: 77-61.
    MICHIGAN (30-7) vs. SYRACUSE (30-9)
    MICHIGAN
    ROAD TO THE FINAL FOUR
    Beat No. 13 South Dakota State 71-56; beat No. 5 VCU 78-53; beat No. 1 Kansas 87-85, OT; beat No. 3 Florida 79-59.
    STAR
    Trey Burke, a consensus first-team All-America, was the MOP of the South Regional and that included an incredible performance against top-seeded Kansas in the round of 16. After having five assists and no points in the first half, Burke scored 23 points in the second half and overtime as Michigan overcame a 10-point deficit with 2:20 left. His 30-footer tied the game with 4 seconds left in regulation. He finished with 10 assists for his fourth double-double of the season. He averages 18.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 6.8 assists while shooting 46.4 percent from the field.
    COACH
    John Beilein has the reputation as the coach's coach. He has compiled winning records in 30 of his 35 seasons as a head coach and has never had back-to-back losing years. He has led four schools to the NCAA tournament (Canisius, Richmond, West Virginia) and this is his first Final Four and Michigan's first since 1992. If any coach can handle Syracuse's famed 2-3 zone it will be Beilein.
    Page 3 of 3 - KEY POINT
    Michigan is a young team — there are often four freshmen and Burke on the court — and having nobody with Final Four experience, including the coach, could be a factor until the nerves settle. The big surprise of the tournament has been freshmen forward Mitch McGary, who is averaging a team-high 17.5 points and 11.5 rebounds. He had a career-high 25 points and 14 rebounds against Kansas.
    SYRACUSE
    ROAD TO THE FINAL FOUR
    Beat No. 13 Montana 81-34; beat No. 12 California 66-60; beat No. 1 Indiana 61-50; beat No. 3 Marquette 55-39.
    STAR
    Even with future NBA players on the roster, Syracuse's star is the 2-3 zone. With its size up top and the length of it on the backline, the zone has turned some teams into offensive messes. It's not just bad shooting (the teams in the NCAA tournament are shooting 28.9 percent from the field and 15.4 percent (14 of 91) from 3-point range) it's the 67 turnovers forced, the 44 steals and 25 blocked shots. The Orange held two teams below 40 points in a game.
    COACH
    Jim Boeheim is second only to Duke's Mike Krzyzewski in wins in Division I (957-920) and this is the fourth team he's taken to the Final Four, advancing to the championship game each of the previous three times and winning it all in 2003. His teams have played the zone defense during a time in college basketball when almost all teams play man-to-man. He played at Syracuse beside Naismith Hall of Famer Dave Bing in the backcourt and has coached at no other school.
    KEY POINT
    The backcourt of Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams are the stars of the zone playing up top and then taking advantage of the turnovers and missed shots for transition baskets. James Southerland is the 3-point specialist (36.8 percent) but the Orange are shooting 36.7 percent from behind the arc. The only drawback to the zone is rebounding and the Orange, despite winning by an average of 20 points, have less than a one-rebound per game advantage.
    THE SKINNY
    It's too easy to say this is the offense of Michigan against the zone defense of Syracuse. It's not just Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III are legitimate scorers and freshman Nik Stauskas is shooting 44.9 percent from 3-point range. Syracuse hasn't been stunning anybody with its offense but the zone has had some pretty good players muttering as they left the court.
    THE PICK
    The zone will have another strong game and Carter-Williams' confidence is rising with each outing. Michigan will get more than 50 points but not a whole lot more: Syracuse 61-53.
     

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