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Friday, April 5, 2013

2013 Final Four Preview

The stage is set. The teams have arrived. Fans have descended upon Atlanta, Georgia for this year’s Final Four. As always, every team has a story. Every team adds a little drama to the story. When it is all over on Monday, there can only be one team to cut down the nets. Here are the contenders.

(1) Louisville Cardinals

This was a rough year for #1 seeds. The other three regional top seeds, Gonzaga, Kansas, and Indiana, were all eliminated after the Sweet 16 round.  But Louisville, the #1 overall seed in the tournament, is still standing. Right now, they still look like the best team in the remaining field.

Louisville has prospered because of stellar guard play, particularly that of senior Peyton Siva (10 PPG, 6 APG). With reserve guard Kevin Ware out of the lineup following a horrific injury in the Midwest Regional Final against Duke, shooting guard Russ Smith (20 PPG) has to step his game up in the backcourt as the Cardinals will be without their reliable reserve.  I like how junior center Gorgui Dieng (10 PPG, 10 RPG, 3 BlkPG) has stepped up every aspect of his game on both ends of the floor. Against a physical post team like Wichita State and the possibility of facing Syracuse, who is also tough in the paint, in the finals, Dieng could be the X factor to push Louisville to a title.

Pitono (left) and Ware (right). It's hard to not root for these guys. 1

(9) Wichita State Shockers

The Shockers have shocked the world, the world outside of Wichita Kansas. Gregg Marshall, the Head Coach of the ninth seeded Shockers has been coaching, talking, and acting like he in his team belong there and they are not a Cinderella. Thus far, they’ve played like they belong. The next college basketball game I coach will be my first, but I cannot help but notice that Wichita State’s strength is in its post game.

Forwards Carl Hall (13 PPG, 7 RPG, 2 BlkPG) and Cleanthony Early (14 PPG, 5 RPG) are the anchors of this team. But Marshall’s entire team plays aggressive defense, particularly down low. They beat people up. If the Shockers’ 20 point second half lead on Big Ten behemoth Ohio State in the West Regional Final did not magnify this strength then nothing will. Perimeter shooting could be a challenge for the Shockers at this stage of the tournament, but they have made it this far and believe they can win. Their first test will be against Louisville tomorrow.

Watch out Final Four! Here come Carl Hall (22) and the Shockers. 2
(4) Syracuse Orange

Syracuse looked like the only team that could give eventual national champion Kentucky a run for their money last year. They started off this regular season looking as potent and then hibernated in March. Many had written the Orange off, me included. Then the Big East Tournament started. They reached the championship round, falling to Louisville and haven’t broken a sweat in the final minutes of a game since.

Teams have tried to break the Orange’s 2-3 zone defense and all have failed. The most staggering statistic: Syracuse, through four NCAA tournament games, has only surrendered 61 field goals to opponents – about 15 field goals per game. Most teams come close to making 15 shots from the field in a half. Michigan, whom the Orange face tomorrow, is one of the best shooting teams in the country. So it remains to be seen how much the Syracuse zone can suppress an elite college offense.

Junior forward C.J. Fair (14 PPG, 7 RPG): "Not so fast, my friend!" 3
(4) Michigan Wolverines

On the strength of their point guard Trey Burke’s (19 PPG, 7 APG, 2 StlPG, 2 TOPG), the 2013 AP Player of the Year clutch shooting, the Wolverines have yet another opportunity to ascend to the pinnacle of college basketball. The Wolverines have the shooters in Burke, shooting guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. (15 PPG, 5 RPG), and small forward Glenn Robinson, III (11 PPG, 6 RPG) to bust the Syracuse zone in the National Semifinal game tomorrow. The question is not, “can they?”; it’s, “Will they?”

Five times this season, Michigan has been ranked in the top ten and lost games against ranked opponents, which could have propelled them in the rankings. Their one big game as the #1 ranked team in the Associated Press? They were clipped at home by then #2 Indiana. Against the #1 seeded Kansas Jayhawks, trailing by double digits in the final minutes, the Wolverines proved they could win tough, close games.
Michigan’s fate against Syracuse in the National Semifinal  will come down to their success along the perimeter. Take and make good shots…they win. If they don’t…they lose.

Trey Burke (3) ties the score of the South Regional Semifinal in the final second of the second half against Kansas. 4

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