Leading up to this weekend’s Final Four, Play For The Garden is breaking down the matchup (back court, front court and coaches before looking at the game as a whole) for both Syracuse’s and Louisville’s respective games.
Russ Smith – 30.1 min/g, 18.9 pts/g, 3.4 reb/g, 2.9 ast/g
Peyton Siva – 31.0 min/g, 9.9 pts/g, 2.3 reb/g, 5.8 ast/g
Luke Hancock – 22.0 min/g, 7.4 pts/g, 2.6 reb/g, 1.3 ast/g
Wayne Blackshear – 20.4 min/g, 7.8 pts/g, 3.2 reb/g, 0.6 ast/g
Kevin Ware – what a horrific injury he endured against Duke. He had been providing valuable depth off the bench, but don’t discount the emotional presence he’ll bring to the team moving forward.
You would be hard-pressed to find a more talented back court in the country than this one. Smith is averaging an astonishing 26 points per game in the NCAA Tournament while Siva is performing like one of the best distributing point guards in the nation (he didn’t commit a single turnover against Duke in their Elite 8 game). And while they made it to the Final Four last year with this same core group, it is the addition of Luke Hancock that could eventually be the difference maker. Louisville knew they had to improve their scoring, and the presence of the sharp-shooting Hancock is a noticeable upgrade.
And if their offense wasn’t enough to already deal with; their defense is even more deadly. Their ability to press an opponent from start to finish gives teams constant fits. Their speed, agility, instincts, aggressiveness and understanding of passing lanes gives Louisville a significant edge heading into games, especially against teams who haven’t experienced it in person or lack an elite point guard to combat it.
Wichita St. Shockers:
Malcolm Armstead – 28.6 min/g, 10.9 pts/g, 3.8 reb/g, 3.9 ast/g
Demetric Williams – 25.4 min/g, 7.6 pts/g, 2.6 reb/g, 2.3 ast/g
Ron Baker – 25.6 min/g, 8.6 pts/g, 2.9 reb/g, 1.9 ast/g
Fred Van Vleet – 16.0 min/g, 4.3 pts/g, 1.9 reb/g, 2.3 ast/g
Tekele Cotton – 23.6 min/g, 6.4 pts/g, 3.9 reb/g, 1.7 ast/g
Nick Wiggins – 13.1 min/g, 5.0 pts/g, 1.8 reb/g, 0.3 ast/g
The Shockers have really benefited from some timely shooting barrages in the NCAA Tournament, including going 14-28 from beyond the arc against Gonzaga in the Round of 32. They weren’t necessarily known for their exceptional shooting throughout the season as they shot 49.7% on 2-point attempts and 34.0% on 3-point attempts, ranking 79thand 164th respectively in the country. This has been a full team effort that has seen a different player each game, or mid-game, step up to carry the Shockers to victory.
And this team does more than just out-hustle opponents and get hot from time to time – they play good defense. On an efficiency adjusted basis Wichita St. is the 23rd best defensive team in the country, but that’s primarily built on their big guys not allowing offensive rebounds while blocking a high rate of shots, not so much on their guards.
The Edge: Louisville
The speed and play making ability of the Louisville Cardinals back court on both ends of the court is exceptional. Russ Smith has been playing nothing short of ‘russtacular’ lately. His shot is on, and his aggressiveness to get to the bucket and finish in all types of ways with multiple defenders around him is amazing. Although, it is imperative that Peyton Siva is on the floor and not relegated to the bench in foul trouble as their offense runs smooth and with direction with him on the court. And while the Shockers have displayed they can light it up on their own end and are willing to run with opponents, they haven’t run into the beast that is Louisville’s defense. Being pressed from end to end by smaller quicker guards who are constantly swiping at the ball is no walk in the park. The loss of Kevin Ware hurts the Cardinals depth, but the emotional spark he’ll bring will help keep the team focused and determined.