The Hoops Prophet has been pointing out so prophetically correctly on most if not all of what has come to pass and what to expect from the NCAA Tournament teams. This good info given free of charge has helped avid readers since the Second Round of 64, starting by calling out the upset minded teams like FGSU, etc., through to the Sweet 16, detailing the schemes to be used required to advance, and now for the benefit of all with the Final Word on the Final Four. Avid readers have been able to make up their own minds based on the fact based keen insight analysis provided. Now the NCAA Tourney is down to just four teams, Louisville, Wichita State, Michigan and Syracuse. These are the teams that proved their worth. Make no mistake, these are the teams that belong. College basketball fans no doubt have their favorites. So let’s get that favoritism out of the way immediately and put it to a vote to let the fans decide!
Now that fans have made their choice on the eventual National Champion, it’s on to the final Four’s two huge games and intriguing matchups. The two games are two very different ones. First the real cinderella story of the tournament with “play angry” Wichita State vs the top #1 seed powerhouse and tourney wide favorite Louisville. Second two fairly equally talented #4 seedsbut with two very opposing schemes. One in a sharpshooting Michigan and Coach Beilein’s Magic Bus perimeter based offense and the other in a long athletic Syracuse with Coach Boeheim’s vaunted 2-3 zone defense that has shut down opponent’s perimeters. The two are teams that will go at each other with what they do best, they are opposing in their strengths, each hoping that their strength ends up the superior force.
Can Wichita State Pull The Upset Of Upsets Against Louisville?
The one common thread with opponents of Wichita State is that Wichita State gets their opponents to play “awful” for much of the game, digging deep holes, with execution and output far below their capability. The question is has all the opponent “awful” been due to dumb luck, or does Wichita State indeed do something to cause the opponents to be “awful”?! It’s hard to imagine that four teams including two of the top teams in the country in Gonzaga and Ohio State are all going to magically play awful, and all four in series, so the conclusion has to be Wichita State’s “play angry” actually causes the opponent’s “awful”. But then again can Wichita State cause a powerhouse disciplined Louisville to be awful? Note here that Louisville’s constant pressure makes it’s opponents play awful as well. While it’s easy to define how Louisville’s pressure makes for turnovers and steals that make other teams awful, it’s a bit harder to understand just why Wichita’s opponents play awful. Call it just hardnosed defense inspired by a will to win desire. This could be an awful interesting game!
Wichita State is led in scoring by their PF/C frontcourt, and Louisville is led in scoring by thier backcourt/wings. Wichita is a good rebounding team at 38 a game, but Louisville on paper is only one behind at 37, noting Wichita beat Gonzaga even getting badly outrebounded, while Louisville has been outrebounding their opponents. A key item to watch for is that Wichita State’s backcourt of Armstead, Cotton and Baker are excellent on the ball defenders, and so how will that affect the ppg output of Louisville’s PG Siva and top scorer SG Smith? Offensively Wichita State is a grind it out and pound it inside and is a halfcourt team that relies on that tough defense man on man, while Louisville likes to pressure the ball full court and get turnovers and steals for easy conversions, so where the different kinds of pressure falls out will determine who digs a hole. Obviously taking care of the rock while breaking the press is Job #1 for Wichita State guards. Both teams shoot about the same from their field at around 44-45%, and both teams are pretty bad 3 ball shooters at around 32-34%. That could turn out to be an advantage for Wichita State if they can limit their turnovers. Louisville isn’t necessarily a team that can come back from a big hole dug, and they’ve not dug many frankly. Wichita State can’t afford sloppy play that negates their inside PF/C advantage. Pounding it down low in a slow disciplined halfcourt game that negates Louisville’s full court pressure and speed and conversion scoring could get Wichita out in front of Louisville as well. Another big key will be if Wichita’s big men and their pound it in pressure can take Louisville’s big man Dieng out of the game. As Dieng in foul trouble really would hurt Louisville on defense. Most of the defensive work for Wichita is going to have to come from their backcourt, to 1) make sure Louisville’s transition game doesn’t dig a hole that Wichita can’t get out of, and 2) force Louisville’s perimeter to shoot as lousy as their perimeter shooting stats show they can. So if Wichita and take care of the rock, prevent Louisville’s transition game, pound the ball inside in the halfcourt, and disrupt Louisville perimeter shooters, all a tall order to be sure, well if so then an upset can be had.
Will The Syracuse 2-3 Zone Stop Michigan’s Perimeter Zone Buster Shooting?
This is strength vs strength, and whichever team’s strength is strongest wins. Syracuse is well noted for their 2-3 zone. It has held opponent teams to 29% shooting in the NCAA so far. On paper if you wanted to put an offensive scheme together that would destroy Boeheim’s 2-3 zone is would be Beilein’s Magic Bus offense and the crew of deadly sharpshooters he has on the perimeter. However Syracuse has faced some other quality perimeter shooting teams, and managed to disrupt them to defeat. That perfect execution of the 2-3 zone has led to some real routs by Syracuse, with little Syracuse offense required. (see Marquette). But Michigan shoots 49% from the field and 39% from the 3 ball perimeter, and presents a problem for the 2-3 that is an order of magnitude higher for Syracuse. Add in that Michigan loves to run the floor and if Syracuse gets lazy or sloppy they will never even be allowed to set up in their 2-3 zone. Of course much of this Michigan scheme depends on Michigan hitting their perimeter shots. A cold Michigan can lead to a nightmare of a humiliating loss, as just what occurred against Michigan State during the regular season.
Michigan will really have to improve their wing defense. In particular Stauskas and Robinson, two guys that tend to drift and miss assignments on defense, will have to be alert. Syracuse has excellent forwards and they lead the team’s offensive charge. Both can hit from the perimeter and are strong to the tin. On the flip side the question for Syracuse’s top 2 of the 2-3 zone is how to stop Michigan’s PG Burke from his power penetration. This is going to be extremely tricky for Syracuse as Burke is an excellent shot from deep with huge range and a green light, requiring Syracuse defenders to come out a long way fast. That makes penetration by Burke easier from the get go, to be sure. And once Burke penetrates past the Syracuse 2-3 perimeter all hell can break lose via to the rack drives and finishes, midrange pull ups, dishes to rolling bigs, and dishes to open perimeter three ballers. And if Burke’s penetration past Syracuse’s perimeter is not a big enough problem for Syracuse’s frontcourt, a lot of pressure will be on Syracuse’s big men Christmas and Coleman to control Michigan’s McGary, just a freshman yet one who has emerged as the dominant big man of the tournament, in both scoring and rebounding, and adding in a full court capability with a whole lot of steals and some devestating halfcourt picks to free up teammates. With all due respect to Burke, McGary’s emergence and huge impact has made him the MVP of the tournament. Syracuse’s 2-3 will have to control Burke, watch the Michigan wings with regard to perimeter shooting, and control McGary inside.
Make sure to get your Final Word On The Final Four in and post your “mini bracketology” on the Final Four game matchups winners and losers, and who the final game participant will be, and who the eventual NCAA National Champion will be!