The Louisville Cardinals were one of the favorites to win the national championship back in November and they have established themselves as the consensus favorite to win the national championship heading into the Final Four. The Cardinals are clicking on all cylinders and are looking to avenge their Saturday night departure from the Final Four a year ago. While the Wichita St. Shockers are the underdog, Cinderella story, and team that the vast majority of the public knows little about. Most people enjoy Wichita St.’s surprise trip to the Final Four simply because they relish in coming up with [what they think are] great ‘Shocker’ puns to describe their journey.
Throughout this week Play For The Garden has broken-down the major aspects of the game. You can read the back court analysis here, front court analysis here and coaches analysis here, but in short these were the conclusions:
Back court – Louisville
Front court – Louisville
Coaching – Louisville
Why Wichita St. will win:
There is no question that the Shockers will have to play at a much higher level than they have throughout the tournament to beat Louisville. And it’s imperative that they punch the Cardinals in the teeth right from the start. They have established a double-digit lead in the first half of every tournament game except in their first game, against Pittsburgh. Not every team has a realistic shot at winning the national championship, but of the ones that should at least be looked at as legitimate contenders, emerging as an 8 or 9 seed seems the most difficult. But Wichita St. has persevered and has beaten the 1-seed (Gonzaga) and 2-seed (Ohio St.), along with Pittsburgh in the round of 64 which many didn’t give them much of a chance of winning, to reach the Final Four. This team spent a good majority of the season without their full arsenal of weapons, but now that they are healthy they are showing their true talent level. If they continue to play with confidence (which coach Gregg Marshall does a good job of planting in their brains before games), hit shots, and play fast and aggressive defense (Rick Pitino actually described Wichita St.’s defense as ‘Marquette on steroids’) they could put themselves in a good position to reach the title game.
Why Louisville will win:
That’s high praise from Pitino calling the Shocker’s defense ‘Marquette on steroids’, but Louisville beat Marquette by 19 in their lone meeting this year. But I suppose putting it on steroids is a step in the right direction. Nevertheless, Louisville is the best team in the country and has been winning all season with their #1 defense. And there isn’t much reason to rattle off the impressive statistics that this team enjoys. This team is very good and by now the entire basketball community knows that. I’ve come back to this a few times in recent posts when breaking down Louisville, but it is imperative that Peyton Siva is on the court. He’s been plagued with foul trouble often this year, and there isn’t another ball handler on the team that can operate the offense like he can, especially now that Kevin Ware is out. Russ Smith has been nothing short of incredible both on offense and defense, but he isn’t a point guard. The offense loses its flow and rhythm when Siva is on the bench. But at the end of the day this team wins by punching you in the teeth early and often with their defense.
Prediction – Louisville
The most telling thing that I took away from Wichita St.’s win over Ohio St. in the Elite 8, besides the fact that they have been shooting the hell out of the ball and playing swarming defense, is how they responded to the Buckeye’s full-court press late in the game. And I say that because they didn’t have a response for it. They let a 20 point lead slip to 3 in a relatively short amount of time and if there were just one more minute left on the clock I believe they would have lost. This is notable because I barely remember Ohio St. ever pressing this season, while Louisville has pressed all season and will press the Shockers for 40 full minutes. The Cardinals force the second most turnovers in the country (27.5%), while Wichita St. is merely average (144th) at giving the ball up (they commit a turnover on 19.5% of possessions).
Louisville is the best team in the country and it has shown in the last two months during their 14 game winning streak. It’d be shocking if Wichita St. beats them. OK, that was a pretty poor effort. And for that, I’m sorry. Enjoy the games.