1. Wichita State nearly shocked the world
For almost the entire 40 minutes Saturday night, Wichita State looked like the better team in their national semifinal against Louisville. Malcolm Armstead and Fred Van Vleet were handling the nasty Cardinals pressure, and the Shockers burst out of halftime to take a 12-point lead. The way they knocked down threes, hustled for offensive rebounds and made big free throws inspired confidence from fans all around the Georgia Dome (if you weren’t a Louisville fan, you were cheering for the Shockers). However, Wichita fell short of a miracle run because of the performance of one man.
2. Not sure if Hancock, or Hancock?
Run down the list of Louisville players most likely to put the team on their back and carry the Cards to the NCAA title. Russ Smith? Peyton Siva? Chane Behanen? Wayne Blackshear? Gorgui Dieng, maybe? None of the above. Last night, Louisville would have lost if not for a heroic effort from Luke Hancock. Wichita State left Hancock open from three-point range too much, and he made them pay. The 6-foot-6 junior knocked in 3-of-5 from beyond the arc. Once the Shockers adapted and started jumping out to contest, Hancock used his pump fake to dribble past defenders and finish at the rim. He was unstoppable offensively, and even tied up Ron Baker (albeit only briefly) to seal the game late.
3. Mitch McGary is to Michigan as Davante Gardner is to Marquette
Sure, it’s a weird comparison. Physically, they look nothing alike, but their ability to breakdown the Syracuse zone ran through the threat McGary provided in both the high and low post. The 6-foot-10 freshman finished four assists short of a triple-double, and he proved a true triple-threat out of the high-post catch offense. Much like Gardner in both Syracuse games in 2013, McGary could pass incisively, shoot effectively or put the ball on the floor each time he caught the ball within 12 feet of the basket. He’s like a slightly skinnier Gardner with an inferior jump shot and considerably worse free throw percentage.
4. Michigan won because they shot over the zone
Don’t get me wrong; 8-for-24 isn’t great from distance. But they made big threes when they needed to, and a lot of them came from somewhat unlikely sources. In an important first half stretch during which Michigan took the lead for good, bench players Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht each made a pair of three-pointers. Tim Hardaway Jr. only shot 3-for-10, but his three triples came at big times for the Wolverines. They only shot 33 percent, but that was just enough to make Syracuse worry about having to guard it tightly, which opened up looks for McGary to create.
5. C.J. Fair will play at the next level
Fair faded down the stretch for the Orange, but he dominated with his ability to knock down a multitude of different shots. He bagged corner jumpers, scored by angling his body awkwardly into the lane and even got ahead of the fast break and dunked. His skill set makes him a lock to at least come off the bench for big minutes in the NBA either next year or the year after if he sticks around.
6. The student sections in the Georgia Dome looked wild
I’m not sure how they looked on TV, but in the arena it was easy to tell that the seating arrangements were optional. After big dunks or defensive plays, the students would go absolutely bezerk and jump all over the place, sometimes on top of each other. The Michigan student section was probably the best, but my favorite moment came from the Syracuse section, when a fan tried to interact with Greg Gumble. The fan kept throwing Gumble parts of his pro-‘Cuse costume, trying to get the broadcaster to put on an orange foam finger or his Syracuse jacket. Gumble, classy as always, laughed it off and kept throwing them back and even shook the young fan’s hand once the exchange ended.
7. The two strangest mascots in the NCAA Division I performed last night
Full disclosure: I think the little orange blob Syracuse calls its mascot is awesome. And damn, could he move! Otto was rolling all over the place, pumping up the Syracuse crowd with his typical wild theatrics. I spent nearly as much time during free throws watching Otto than I did watching the actual shot. And the Wichita State mascot? Who knows what’s going on there? The best way I can think to describe it is an overflowing box of movie popcorn crossed with the horned guy from Pan’s Labyrinth. A Google search reveals its name is WuShock and it’s supposed to portray “a big, bad, muscle-bound bundle of wheat,” according to the WSU athletics website. Whatever it is, I wouldn’t let small children near it.
8. A lot of coaches go to the Final Four as fans
This is a wrinkle I had heard about, but experience full-force yesterday. Besides seeing Matt Painter (Purdue), Mark Few (Gonzaga) and Shaka Smart (VCU) walking around the city yesterday pre-game, I might have been sitting in the designated coach section in the arena. Sitting in section 112 with me: Dana Altman (Oregon), Leonard Hamilton (Florida State), Ray McCallum (Detroit), Jay Wright (Villanova), Ken Bone (Washington State) and Jim Larranaga (Miami). Regardless of whether their teams make a deep run in the tourney, it seems like coaches use this time to relax with family before embarking on the recruiting trail after the season ends.
9. Twenty years later, Christian Laettner still gets booed
NCAA President Mark Emmert (who gets booed quite a bit himself) introduced the former Duke star twice during the games yesterday, once to receive his award for best shot and another time for his recognition as one of the best players overall in tournament history. Both times, the crowd rang down boos on Laettner. Mind you, the man hasn’t played college basketball in 20 years. Some fans just never let things go.
10. Monday’s final will come down to guard play
Three of the best guards in the country will battle for supremacy Monday night. On one side, Louisville brings the best one-two punch backcourt in the country with Siva and Smith. Michigan counters with the AP Player of the Year and Wooden Award winner Trey Burke at the controls. Smith was the only one who played well Saturday, and even he faded down the stretch. Louisville could cruise to victory if its guards overwhelm Burke with the full court press.