#9 Wichita State vs. #1 Louisville – Saturday (6:09 – CBS)
I give Gregg Marshall and Wichita State a ton of credit; the Shockers have continued to roll despite what everyone else thinks. Fuck, the majority of the country has never even heard of this program or its conference, so why on Earth would they have even stood a chance at taking down a solid team from the Big East (Pittsburgh) in the opening round?
At least that was the consensus heading into the tournament, despite the fact that the Shockers have been relevant for quite some time, and despite the fact that the Missouri Valley Conference is one the best non-Power 6 conferences in the nation. But then, before we knew it, Wichita had sprinted past the Panthers, taken down Gonzaga, steamrolled LaSalle, and survived a furious comeback from Ohio State. Clearly this underdog thing is working for them.
The Shockers have a great compliment of athletic forwards and lightning quick guards. They thrive on the defensive end and crash the boards like animals, all the while getting enough offense to outlast their opponents night in and night out. In reality, there is nothing “mid-major” about the way this team plays.
These ladies are apparently referring to some other usage of the term “shocker”
With all that being said, Wichita State fans and bandwagon jumpers alike should be wary of this matchup. This might be a statement from Captain Obvious, but Louisville is playing with a lot of emotion in the wake of the Kevin Ware injury (and for those of you who have been living under a rock for the past week, yes, Kevin Ware’s leg injury was the worst sports injury of all-time).
But even without the injury, Rick Pitino’s squad was clearly beginning to reach another level. The Cardinals were dealt the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, and they have, without doubt, fulfilled those expectations. The way they fluster and disrupt opposing offenses, the way they take complete control of the tempo of the game; Louisville simply looks better than everyone else. Now, with that added motivation, this Louisville team might not be stopped.
Never has a broken leg seemed so tragic
Between Gorgui Dieng’s emergence in the post, Russ Smith’s cold-blooded shooting from outside, and the consistent contributions from guys like Chase Behanan and Wayne Blackshear, Louisville is running on all cylinders at the right time. And of course, it all revolves around heady point guard Peyton Siva, who might just be one of the most respected players in all of college basketball (seriously, check out what this guy has been through so far in his life. Feel useless yet?)
To make a long story short, Louisville has the horses to ride this thing out until the end. And besides, I’ve been picking against Wichita State this whole time, so why start now.
FINAL VERDICT: LOUISVILLE 77, WICHITA STATE 69
#4 Michigan vs. #4 Syracuse – Saturday (8:49 – CBS)
THIS is the matchup we’ve all wanted to see. It’s the uber-exciting Michigan Wolverines and their National Player of the Year, Trey Burke, against the rejuvenated Syracuse Orange and their relentless 2-3 zone. On one side, it all starts with Burke, who is the fearless leader of the Michigan Machine. He has elevated his play when it matters most, and clearly has some massive onions, as evidenced by his shot from the parking lot in the last seconds of regulation against Kansas last weekend.
Step-back jumper from 30 feet with four seconds left? I think so
However, aside from Burke, the rest of the Wolverines are young and spry and hella-talented as well. The Wolverines have a pair of top notch athletes on the wings (Tim Hardaway & Glenn Robinson III), who also happen to have NBA bloodlines. They have a certain lock-down shooter waiting in the corner (Nik Stauskas), who happens to be shooting a ridiculous 45% from beyond the arc. They also happen to have one of the rising young big men (Mitch McGary) in college basketball, which are increasingly harder to find these days. Although the notion of starting three freshman and a sophomore could bode negatively for some squads, that’s not the case for John Beilein’s crew. This team uses its youth and athleticism as an advantage. That is it’s calling card.
Because of these playmakers, Michigan’s offense is so efficient, so compelling, and so smooth. Most importantly, there are so many options. Once again, it starts with Burke, as he easily knifes his way into the heart of the defense. He then either dishes the ball to any of their gunners on the outside, dumps it underneath to McGary, or he just takes it to the rack himself. So. Many. Options. Did you watch them against Florida in that first half? When things are going well, it’s a work of art.
On the other end, you have a Syracuse team that has defined the concept of “tightening things up on defense”. After an otherworldly start to their season, the Orange fell back down to Earth in February. And they fell hard, to the tune of seven losses in a 12 game stretch. Yet, Jim Boeheim got his team going again in March, and the timing could not have been more perfect. Since scoring just 39 points in an ugly loss to Georgetown on March 9, ‘Cuse has won seven of their last eight (including four in a row, duhh) and has held their opponents to an average of 48 points per game during that span. Most recently, the Orange allowed just 39 points in their 16-point drubbing of Marquette on Saturday. The Golden Eagles shot 23 percent from the floor. I think it’s safe to say that Syracuse’s defense has risen to the occasion.
While defense may set the tone for Syracuse, let’s not forget that the Orange aren’t necessarily slouches on offense either. We’ve raved about Michael Carter-Williams in the Dumpster before, and there is no question that he is a top-4 point guard in college basketball (along with Burke, Siva, and Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart). He is a engine that makes this thing run.
However, it’s all ansillary pieces to the puzzle that have gotten Syracuse to where they are today, because let’s face it, Carter-Williams hasn’t brought his A-game every day. Look at the weapons they have at their expense, both inside and out: C.J. Fair, James Southerland, Rakeem Christmas, Baye Keita, and of course, 58th-year senior Brandon Triche (that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but whatever).
Doesn’t it seem like he’s been with ‘Cuse for like 15 years, or is it just me?
The Orange have seemed to underachieve with this core group time and time again, or at least it seems that way since Southerland and Triche have been fixtures in the rotation for what seems like ages. But now, with the likes of Carter-Williams and Fair working the perimeter, and Christmas and Keita lurking in the paint, things feel different for Syracuse this year. Can Michigan score at will against this ramped-up Orange defense? Can the Wolverines consistently get stops on the defensive end. Will Burke vs. Carter-Williams be as good of a point guard matchup as anticipated? Will James Southerland explode and rip someone’s head off? Lots of questions to be answered here guys, but I guess we’ll have to wait ’till this weekend.
Seriously, look at that face. He might rip someone’s head off
When it comes to a game that looks as evenly matched as this, often times you side with the team that has the best player of the floor, which would be Trey Burke. But this time, I’m going in a different direction. I’m going with the team that features more veterans, both on the floor and on the sidelines. Given the bevy of leadership within its core rotation and its coaching staff, I feel like Boeheim’s squad should have what it takes to upend the high-flying Wolverines.
FINAL VERDICT: SYRACUSE 62, MICHIGAN 58