Friday, April 5, 2013

Handicapping the Final Four

It's not like they were a #15 seed but, as an original #9, few could dispute if there's a "Cinderella" still left in the tournament -- it's Wichita State. The Shockers shocked a lot of people by getting this far. Now they face the daunting task of taking on the overall #1 seed Louisville, who many predicted would cut down the nets at the end of the final game before the tournament even started.

It would seem to be a mismatch, but is it? Louisville's really good. They can run with the best of them, play a half court game, shoot, crash the boards, and have a tenacious defense. Plus they've got a very experienced coach in Rick Pitino. Like him or not, he's been there, done that. Not that they needed any more motivation, but the Cardinals are rallying around their fallen teammate Kevin Ware, who suffered the well publicized horrendous broken leg in their last game against Duke. They're on a mission to win it for #5.

On the other hand, despite being a 10 point underdog in the upcoming game, Wichita State appears to be a on a mission of their own. They weren't supposed to beat #1 seed Gonzaga or #2 Ohio State along the way -- but they did.  The Shockers are peaking at the right time and seem to rise to whatever occasion confronts them. Besides their own talent, they can be very physical, and just play flat out HARD from start to finish.

Prediction? Cinderella only lives happily ever after in fairy tales and Disney movies. This is the big stage, not the big screen. Louisville 72, Wichita State 56.

Michigan and Syracuse have a lot in common. They were both #4 seeds going in. They both knocked off a #1 in the regional semis, and a #3 in the regional finals. What's the chances of that happening? Even their head coaches, John Beilein and Jim Boeheim, are old buddies from way back.

Michigan from the Big 10 and Syracuse from the Big East. Either conference can make a very good argument about being the toughest in the country. Indeed, seven Big 10 teams made it into the tournament, and eight from the Big East. Both the Blue and the Orange have faced a lot of brutal competition over the course of the season.

Also, they're both somewhat unpredictable. Each is capable of beating anybody if they're playing well, and each is also capable of losing to a much lesser team if they underachieve. Both have posted impressive wins and suffered disappointing, head-scratching losses. Up and down the rankings over the season they have gone.

Yet they are vastly different as well. Michigan features the Associated Press player of the year, Trey Burke, and a few other highly touted underclassmen that can shoot the lights out when they're going good. They like to run and gun.

Syracuse can run a little too, but might be more adept at the half court game. They feature a bunch of lesser known guys with more experience.

Forget the occasional dunks. Everybody can dunk these days. This game will boil down to one thing. Syracuse's vaunted defensive 2-3 zone versus how well Michigan shoots. Some say Burke and company will easily penetrate it. I disagree. The Syracuse guys are long, have been playing this zone all year, and are very good at it. They not only smoothly and quickly transition to the movement of the basketball, they anticipate passes which often result in turnovers. Michigan will have a hard time getting easy points in the "paint".

Syracuse is going to get their points regardless -- both inside and out. If Michigan's gunners light it up from 3 point range -- they win. If they don't -- they lose.

Prediction? In a toss-up game, one would normally give the nod to the more experienced coach. Like the above mentioned Rick Pitino, Jim Boeheim has been there, done that. This will be John Beilein's first go-around at the Big Show. But the way Michigan dismantled Florida in the regional finals convinced me the Wolverines are the real deal -- again -- if they shoot well. I think they will. Michigan 74, Syracuse 68.

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