The unpredictable 2012-2013 college basketball season is reflected by the schools represented in the 2013 NCAA Tournament’s Final Four. The only #1 seed who survived to make it to Atlanta are the top seeded Louisville Cardinals. Two other teams, the Michigan Wolverines and the Syracuse Orange both spent time in the top five during the regular season but faltered toward the end, earning 4 seeds. Finally, this year’s Cinderella’s story is being narrated by the #9 seeded Wichita State Shockers, who defeated a #1 (Gonzaga) and a #2 (Ohio State) to crash the party. Louisville, Michigan, and Syracuse should not surprise many with their presence but the Shockers are the exciting story. How long before that story lasts will play out over the the next three nights.
#9 Wichita State Shockers (30-8) vs. #1 Louisville Cardinals (33-5), 5:05 CT
The Shockers have surprised over and over this tournament but there is little chance Wichita State can win this game unless they slow things down and don’t get drawn into a fast paced contest. The Shockers need to maintain a physicality through out the game without drawing a lot of fouls. If the Shockers can crash the boards, keep the Cardinals in front of them defensively, and guard the long range bombers, they can be there at the end. If a team like WSU gets hot from three-point range, they will always have a shot in a one game situation. Louisville is more athletic, man-for man, but maybe not a s much so as they anticipate. The Shockers are a scrappy bunch. They will not just rollover.
A big unknown in this game will be just how focused Rick Pitino can have his players. The brutal injury to Kevin Ware last week against Duke is no longer fresh in their minds but these are kids and you can never know how they will be affected. Are they emotionally or physically worn out from that episode, even if it was a week ago. Pitino is a fine coach, so you can bet he will have his guys as ready as anyone could in the situation.
Look for this game to be relatively close early. Louisville will maintain control through most of the game but will not be able to pull away. Wichita State will make a run in the second half but will ultimately fall short. The Cardinals will finally wear down the upstarts to win.
Prediction: Louisville 71, Wichita State 60.
#4 Michigan Wolverines (30-7) vs. # 4 Syracuse Orange (30-9), 7:50 CT
It always seems to hinge on the movement and intensity of the Syracuse famed zone defense. When The Orange can come out with fire and energy, that zone is a very difficult creature to conquer. If Michigan can keep the ball moving around the perimeter, and the Wolverine guards can take advantage of open looks on the perimeter, Michigan can win this game. Wolverine star guard Trey Burke is terrific at taking care of the ball and and can not only shoot the long ball, but can drive and distribute as well. If any one player can handle the pressure of that zone, it is Burke. If Burke gets help inside from Mitch McGary and his back court mates, Michigan can win this game.
Syracuse has to maintain their intensity the whole 40 minutes. Anyone who witnessed their second half meltdown in the Big East Tournament championship game against Louisville knows that things can come apart quickly. Brandon Triche must have a good game and the Orange must keep the Wolverines off the offensive boards. That zone can throw any team in the nation off its game when it is at its best, therefore making the Orange a threat to win in every game they play.
Look for this to be a classic. These teams each have strengths that match up well with the other. It will be hard for either team to gain the upper hand long enough to pull away. In the end, Trey Burke is one of the best, if not the best player in the nation, and he will find a way to win this ball game.
Prediction: Michigan 77, Syracuse 72.