Inside the Bracket: Louisville favored to win in Atlanta
There’s no secret formula at work here. The Louisville Cardinals are favored to conquer the Final Four in Atlanta and return the NCAA National Championship trophy to the Bluegrass. As the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed, the Cardinals are exactly where many thought they would be both when the brackets were announced on March 17 and when the NCAA basketball season opened in November. Louisville is talented, deep, and guided by a soon-to-be Hall of Fame coach in Rick Pitino.
Yes, the Cardinals will miss Kevin Ware. But he is with the team in Atlanta, and if the second half of his team’s win over Duke is any indication, there’s more than enough inspiration and motivation for the Cards to complete their journey.
Louisville – Wichita State
That journey begins against Wichita State. Appropriately nicknamed, the Shockers crashed the Final Four after upsetting the top two seeds in the West Region – Gonzaga and Ohio State. Both Louisville and WSU pride themselves on defense. The question is whether the Shockers can handle the relentless pressure imposed by the Cardinals for 40 minutes. Thirty minutes of success isn’t enough. Neither is 35. It’s those five to ten-minute bursts when Louisville excels. Consider this: the Cardinals have won their four NCAA games by an average of 21 points – which includes victories over Colorado State, Oregon, and Duke. Combined, Louisville has scored 333 points and allowed 236.
Does that mean Louisville will beat a very good Wichita State team by 20-plus points? No. But over the course of 40 minutes, the Cardinals’ size, power, and quickness should be enough to push them in the title game on Monday night. It’s very hard to prepare for Russ Smith and Peyton Siva. Much like you can’t simulate VCU’s “havoc” in practice, you can’t simulate the speed and savvy of Smith and Siva.
Syracuse – Michigan
It might be rather bland, but the matchup between Syracuse and Michigan likely comes down to a simple basketball fundamental – which team makes the most shots. If the Wolverines bust three-pointers like they did against Florida, it will stretch the Syracuse zone and create driving lanes for Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson, III. It will also create room around the hoop for Mitch McGary. Likewise, Syracuse needs Michael Carter-Williams, James Southerland, and Brandon Triche to score in half-court situations. Both the Orange and Wolverines excel in transition offense, so let’s consider that a even matchup. Syracuse’s zone has been phenomenal, and there’s no way to replicate it even a week of preparation. While the active zone and the team’s overall size give the Orange a slight advantage, Michigan has been on fire since rallying to beat Kansas in overtime. In a close one, the Wolverines advance to Monday’s title tilt.
Louisville will create enough bursts to beat Michigan and claim the school’s first NCAA Championship since 1986. And in case you’re wondering, the Cardinals will be strong again next March. They will lose Peyton Siva to graduation, and likely Gorgui Dieng to the NBA, but the rest of Cardinals should return and welcome a strong recruiting class to boot.
Enjoy the Final Four!