NCAA Tournament Championship Weekend: #1 Louisville Vs. #9 Wichita State
- CoachingRick Pitino’s clearly still got it. Now in his second straight Final Four – and this time coaching the prohibitive favorite – Pitino has the matchups he needs to capture a second national title. And the way he stayed the night with Kevin Ware after the gruesome injury earns him extra points.While Gregg Marshall’s accomplishments are pebbles compared the boulders Pitino has moved, Marshall has excelled about as well as any mid-major coach could, between successful stints at Winthrop and now at Wichita State. For getting the Shockers into the Final Four, he may be the top coach of this tournament.
- OffenseThe Cardinals have been scorching defenses like an active volcano, with the amazing Russ Smith leading the charge. Just to put things in perspective, Smith scored 54 points just last weekend, and his team put up 50 points on Duke – in the second half!Featuring a balanced attack led by Carl Hall, Malcolm Armstead and Cleanthony Early, the Shockers mount enough points on offense to stay competitive with the big boys. As the Ohio State game showed us, they can score when they have to on elite defenses.
- DefenseAs superlative as the Cardinals are on offense, their defense has been almost as good during the season – and in the tourney. Holding Colorado State, Oregon and Duke to 56, 69 and 63 points, respectively, gave them room to win without breaking a sweat.The Shockers are a fierce defensive squad, rebounding well, hacking when you drive and churning out nearly five blocks per game. Whether they can handle Louisville is a big question, but Pitt and La Salle struggled mightily to score against them.
- Bench DepthWith Kevin Ware out for good, Pitino will have to rely on the rest of his bench more than he intended. The way the Cardinals annihilated Duke – even without Ware – shows there is plenty of talent across the bench to propel Louisville forward.Freshman guard Fred Van Vleet not only owns an awesome name – he’s also been the Shockers’ key man off the bench. Developing before our very eyes, he managed 12 points in 24 minutes vs. Ohio State.
Louisville has the edge in every category, so how can Wichita State possibly win? The same way the Shockers have gotten here – anything can happen in one game, and on a good day, Wichita State can put up a fight.