Michigan, Syracuse, Louisville and Wichita State Off To Atlanta For Final 4

Myron Medcalf of ESPN looks at the interesting story lines and key matchups as the Final 4 is set:

The survivors, those who’ve persisted toward Atlanta for the Final Four and a shot at the national title, are diverse.

There’s the Big Ten team that’s not the Big Ten team many expected to see there. And the Kansas school that believes in the code of the WuShock, not the Jayhawk.

The Big East’s best team is still thriving. But Louisville’s conference colleague, Syracuse, is coming, too. They’re all different. Their styles, their systems, their paths.

But there’s a similarity that can’t be overlooked as we prepare for the final chapter of the 2012-13 season. They’re all led by elite quarterbacks (point guards).

Trey Burke, Malcolm Armstead, Michael Carter-Williams and Peyton Siva are savvy leaders who’ve demonstrated their value throughout the NCAA tournament.

Armstead has been a catalyst for Wichita State on both ends of the floor. The NBA draft stock of Carter-Williams has risen in this tournament. Burke did amazing things for Michigan throughout the regular season, and then he did things in the Big Dance that we’re still trying to process. Siva is the maestro of a balanced Louisville team that’s toyed with some of the best squads in the country for the past two weeks.

They’re all here. They’re all vital.

No, they won’t do it alone. They can’t.

Still, their teams will not fulfill their national title dreams unless they’re productive in Atlanta. They know that. But it’s a responsibility they’ve all proven they can handle in the postseason.

Why They’ll Win The National Title

Louisville: This team displayed its toughness when it recovered emotionally and mentally following Kevin Ware’s leg injury in the first half of Sunday’s win over Duke. That’s the resilience this team has used to avoid a loss for nearly two months, winning 14 straight since that gut-wrenching five-OT classic at Notre Dame.

So how do you beat a team with that level of momentum? No team has figured that out since early February. It starts with the Cardinals’ furious defense, a unit that’s second nationally in defensive turnover rate (27.5 percent) per Ken Pomeroy. That presence allows the Cards to pounce on teams because they can disrupt the rhythm of their opponents as effectively as any squad in America, and turn their chaos into buckets on the other end.

Ask Duke. Louisville outscored the Blue Devils by 22 points in the final 15:44 of their Elite Eight win on Sunday. Thanks to UL contesting every shot, the Devils were 2-for-11 on catch-and-shoot jump shots according to ESPN Stats & Info.

The perimeter speed of Siva (5.8 APG) and Russ Smith (18.8 PPG) assists Louisville in its ability to deliver sudden, Mike Tyson-like blows to opponents. The Cardinals are still an enigma in college basketball. And they’re clearly the favorites to win it all in Atlanta.

They’ll win the national title because they’re just better than everyone else.

Syracuse: The Orange’s 55-39 victory over Marquette in Saturday’s Elite Eight matchup was surreal. But it was not unfamiliar. The bottom line is that Jim Boeheim’s team is brutalizing offenses in the Big Dance. All four of Syracuse’s NCAA tournament opponents have shot below 28 percent outside the paint. Syracuse scored 19 points off 14 Marquette turnovers and held the Golden Eagles to just 12 field goals.

This is a typical SU squad. It’s a team with length and athleticism at every position. That’s not abnormal. But Boeheim’s players have executed the zone with discipline. Just one starter (James Southerland against Cal) has fouled out of a game since the NCAA tournament began. That’s connected to its opponents’ inability to crack the scheme.

They’re struggling to get inside. So instead of attacking, they’re settling for tougher shots outside the arc. Plus, players limit fouls and free throws for opponents. It’s a bad combination for teams that want to stop Syracuse. They’re not finding or creating ways to score.

Carter-Williams’ effectiveness as an orchestrator has been the key to Cuse’s offensive success. In four NCAA tournament games, he’s recorded 19 assists and nine turnovers. Take away the five-turnover effort against Cal and MCW has a 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in the three other games.

Syracuse will win the national title because this zone is still a mystery that some of the best teams in the country haven’t been able to decipher in recent weeks. That trend could continue in Atlanta.

Michigan: Burke (18.9 PPG, 6.8 APG, 1.6 SPG) is a threat on so many levels. He can drive and score. He can hit shots from the perimeter. He can connect inside the arc, too. His effectiveness permeates the entire program. Glenn Robinson III, Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas, Mitch McGary and Co. have soared during this remarkable run for the Wolverines.

Throughout the season, UM wrestled with an inconsistent defense (65.7 PPG allowed in Big Ten play, ninth in the conference). That was supposed to be the issue that stopped it from reaching the Final Four. Lost in the criticism, however, was the potency of this team’s offense. In their past two games, the Wolverines have scored 79 points or more against two assemblies (Florida and Kansas) that were ranked in the top six of Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings. The Gators had one of the nation’s top offensive units, but the Wolverines forced 15 turnovers and held them to 59 points and a 2-for-10 clip from the 3-point line.

Michigan will win the national title because Burke is the top playmaker in the field, and he’s surrounded by talented shooters and underrated defenders.

Wichita State: No need to pinch yourself. This is real. The Shockers’ Cinderella tale has been told many times in recent weeks. But it’s somewhat misleading.

Yes, this is a crew with a bunch of players many had never heard of prior to the program’s first Final Four run in nearly 50 years. Right now, however, this is also one of the top defensive units in the country with confident veterans and a point guard who could start for most Big Six programs.

The Shockers can win the national title because they’re forcing opponents into difficult shots all over the floor. They gave Ohio State bad angles at the rim in their Elite Eight victory in Los Angeles on Saturday.

And their stellar 3-point defense continues (Wichita State’s four NCAA tourney opponents have shot 21-for-73 from the field). Teams haven’t found much success against WSU in the paint either.

The Shockers held the Buckeyes (and that game is significant because it was the most talented team they’d faced in the Big Dance) under 50 percent in the paint. Carl Hall alone blocked 14.6 percent of his opponents’ shots on the defensive possessions he played, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Ohio State scored 66 points on 70 possessions and shot 2-for-10 in the area between the arc and paint. There was just no place for the Buckeyes to go.

Wichita State also trusts Armstead (eight steals in four NCAA tournament victories), who is as much of a leader as any player in the Final Four. The Shockers love to start fast and deliver early KOs. This is a dangerous crew that is capable of outplaying the other three teams in Atlanta.

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Posted on April 1, 2013, in NCAA Basketball and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Michigan, Syracuse, Louisville and Wichita State Off To Atlanta For Final 4.

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