NCAA Notebook: Final Four Preview

No. 9 Wichita State Shockers

The Shockers have been one of several teams in this tournament causing all sorts of trouble for high seeds, and their ultimate test will come this Friday against No. 1 Louisville, a favorite to win the title.

Wichita State won its opening round matchup with Pittsburgh and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen by thwarting No. 1 Gonzaga, arguably the weakest No. 1 seed in the field. The Shockers took down No. 13 La Salle to proceed to the Elite Eight and punched their ticket to Atlanta by beating No. 2 Ohio State. That victory did not come easily. Wichita State nearly blew a 20-point lead late in the game, but the Buckeyes’ shooting went cold down the stretch.

The Shockers will need to control their turnovers against the Cardinals to have any sort of shot at yet another upset. Louisville averages 11 steals per game and has shown it can quickly dismantle teams in the transition game.

No. 1 Louisville Cardinals

Louisville lost a valuable player in Kevin Ware on Sunday when the sophomore suffered a horrific leg injury in the team’s win over Duke. The story of his injury has spread internationally and just might be the motivation the Cardinals need to move on to the title game.

The Cardinals use the three-headed monster of Russ Smith (18.9 ppg), Gorgui Dieng (10.2 ppg) and Peyton Siva (9.9 ppg) to get the offensive output they need. Siva and Smith are also averaging two steals per game, which will be used to their advantage against Wichita State, which averages nearly 13 turnovers per contest.

Additionally, Louisville has not lost since Feb. 9 when it fell to Notre Dame. A disruption of its hot streak is not likely, so expect Rick Pitino to advance to his first title game at Louisville in 12 years.

No. 4 Syracuse Orange

Syracuse has had a peculiar season. The Orange started off the year 18-1 overall, including 6-0 in the Big East. Then Jim Boeheim’s group slipped into a funk, dropping five of its next seven games.

The Orange, however, seemed rejuvenated in the Big East tournament, advancing to the title game before losing to Louisville. The No. 4 seed did justice to its season as a whole, but Syracuse was one of the hottest teams entering the Big Dance.

The offense is paced by Michael Carter-Williams, who is averaging 12.1 points and 7.4 assists per game. James Southerland is the team’s main 3-point threat, making 83 of the squad’s 230 treys this year. Syracuse’s Achilles heel may be its free throw shooting; the team shoots only 67.5 percent from the charity stripe.

Syracuse is holding opponents to 15 percent shooting from beyond the arc in the tournament, and its zone defense will be put to the test against a Michigan team that can shoot nearly 39 percent from deep.

No. 4 Michigan Wolverines

In its first Final Four since 1993, Michigan has been led by Trey Burke’s heroics all tournament. Burke, after going scoreless in the first half against No. 1 Kansas, scored 23 points, including a game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation.

The Wolverines take care of the ball, as shown by their 1.55 assist to turnover ratio, and they average a mere 9.4 turnovers per game.

Michigan has had a season similar to Syracuse. Burdened with high expectations after its 20-1 start, the Wolverines closed out the season 6-6, including two losses to Wisconsin and an embarrassing defeat at winless Penn State. Like Syracuse, Michigan is riding high in the tourney after those struggles and will be vying for a shot at the national title.