NCAAM Final Four is Set
With the Final Four decided after Sunday's slate of games, we're left with a surprising group of teams in what was an unpredictable season. The four remaining teams-Louisville, Syracuse, Michigan, and Wichita State-all have the ability to play the type of basketball deserving of a championship. Louisville was the only team I correctly predicted in the Final Four, and I still believe they'll win it all. Here's what each of the Final Four teams needs to do to win the NCAA Championship.
I'll start with the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tourney and the only remaining #1 seed, the Louisville Cardinals. The only Conference Champion left, they have the advantage of already beating one of the other remaining teams (Syracuse). Rick Pitino's team has stormed through their first 4 opponents, destroying Duke by 22 points. They'll need to keep their defensive intensity up in their next contest. When Louisville forces turnovers, they have two of the best transition guards in Russ Smith and Peyton Siva. After the chilling injury suffered by Kevin Ware, Louisville could draw inspiration and play off emotion. Big Man Gorgui Dieng looks like a legitimate pro player with his sweet shooting touch and defensive prowess. Protecting the rim will be key against a Wichita State team that plays physical basketball. If Smith can win the guard battle over Malcolm Armstead, Louisville should have no problem with the Shockers. The Cardinals are the #1 seed for a reason, and they should prove that Saturday night.
The Shockers have certainly lived up to their name thus far. For a team once sitting at 15-1 and ranked inside the AP Top-25 for a large portion of the season, they received little respect from the selection committee. Their latest win over Ohio State proved they are for real. Armstead plays with poise that most guards can't contend with. If he can handle the pressure Louisville throws at him, Wichita State could dictate the tempo. Senior forward Carl Hall has been a beast on defense for the Shockers. He registered 6 blocks against Ohio State. Him and Dieng could play to a standstill. Wichita State will win this game if they can keep Louisville to a half court game. If coach Gregg Marshall stresses stopping transition this week, the Shockers could become the highest seed ever in the Championship game.
The Michigan Wolverines were a top team all year, until a late season slide left them underrated going into the tournament. The team responded by playing a brand of basketball that leaves other teams in the dust. They squeaked past Kansas in OT in the Sweet 16, thanks to point guard Trey Burke. Burke has been the unquestioned leader of the team all year, and he's only a Sophomore. The Florida game was a total mismatch. Michigan's size was an issue for the Gators. Mitch McGary may be the breakout star in this years tourney. The Freshman Center plays big, exhibiting an expansive array of low post moves. There is not a single player on Syracuse who can match up with the big man. John Beilein's decision to roll with McGary this postseason may deliver the biggest payoff in Michigan History. This Wolverine team can shoot, defend, and rebound with the best of them. If they can figure out Syracuse's zone, they should run away with the game.
When the Orangemen face Michigan, they'll round out the first ever matchup of 4 seeds in a National Semifinal. For Cuse, the road was difficult. They defeated heavily favored Indiana and Big East rival Marquette in the Elite 8. The zone has proved impenetrable this year, forcing opponents to take contested threes. Michigan can shoot, but as with any team, a poor shooting night could surface. Syracuse's guards don't match up with Trey Burke. Michael Carter-Williams towers above Burke in size, but is no match when it comes to ball handling. If Carter-WIlliams can limit his turnovers in the Final Four, Syracuse should play enough defense to win. CJ Fair is the x factor for Cuse. If he plays up to the competition, he'll be a much needed bonus to Jim Boeheim's offense. Rebounding will need to be a team effort, against a bigger Michigan frontline, in order for Syracuse to move on into the Championship game.
Any of these teams could win, and make a serious case that they should win. If I had to rank the final teams, it would be: Louisville, Michigan, Syracuse, Wichita State. Of course, as we've seen this year, ranking do not mean anything. Whatever the outcome, there is no doubt the Final Four from Atlanta will be can't miss basketball .