Friday, April 5, 2013

2013 NCAA Tournament: Final Four Preview

Let’s be honest here – the 2013 NCAA Tournament to this point has been one of the least exciting in recent memory.  But, the good thing is we still have three games remaining, and they are the most important of the bunch – so hopefully we can enjoy some nail-biting finishes this coming weekend.
609pm EDT - #1 Louisville (33-5) vs. #9 Wichita State (30-8): in the opener of Final Four weekend the Louisville Cardinals, winners of the Big East Tournament and overall #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament will face the upstart Wichita State Shockers out of the Missouri Valley Conference (they finished in 2nd place during regular season behind Creighton, and lost to Creighton in the MVC Championship Game).  This is the traditional “David vs. Goliath” matchup featuring the best team in the country according to many people (including myself) versus a mid-major club that was not able to win its conference during the regular season or postseason tourney, but got hot at the right time knocking off multiple BCS conference teams (Pitt, Ohio State, and #1 seed Gonzaga) on their way to their first Final Four appearance since 1965.  Louisville was expected to be here….Wichita State on the other hand clearly was not, which makes this matchup all the more appetizing.  The current line is set at Louisville -10.5, which has increased half a point since opening.  Louisville enters this game on a 14 game winning streak, dating back to a multiple OT loss at Notre Dame on February 9th; in addition the Cardinals have gone 11-3 ATS during their run, and the 3 ATS losses were by a combined 7 points.  WSU isn’t quite as hot, but dating back to the same February 9th marker they are 11-3 SU/10-4 ATS – not too shabby themselves.   My first step in handicapping non-BCS conference teams is going back to the OOC portion of their schedule, and breaking down games they played versus the BCS conference type teams to get a gauge for how they perform against that kind of height, strength, quickness, etc:
  • 11/13/12 @ VCU: Won 53-51
  • 11/20/12 neutral vs. DePaul: Won 75-62
  • 11/21/12 nuetral vs. Iowa: Won 75-63
  • 12/13/12 @ Tennessee: Loss 69-60
Examining those four games, along with including their action thus far in the NCAA Tournament shows clearly that WSU can handle the challenge that comes when playing teams of this nature.  Despite only one of those four teams reaching the NCAA Tournament (VCU), Iowa and Tennessee were both bubble tourney teams, and can provide a helpful gauge on the Shockers capabilities.  Next up is taking a look at the injury report to analyze any impacts either team may face there – we are all aware of the injury to G Kevin Ware of Louisville by now, and his absence will have a definite impact on this game as the Cardinals are not very deep at either the 1 or 2 spot without his services.  Otherwise, there are no additional injuries of note for this upcoming matchup.  I then move my analysis to the statistical portion of each team’s resume, especially focusing on away game performance, and the defensive side of the ball.  In the “Overall” split both teams are nearly identical in each area – yes I realize the Cardinals have played a much tougher schedule, but I will discuss that shortly.  The one area that stands out is rebounding – and edge for WSU, one they have enjoyed thus far in the tournament (they were only outrebounded by Gonzaga through the first four rounds), and one they must enjoy come Saturday to have a solid shot at beating the Cardinals.  When moving to the “Away Games” split we see some variation between the teams, one that favors Louisville.  The offensive numbers are similar with a small edge going to Wichita State, but defensively the Cardinals show their superiority posting a FG% allowed mark of 37.9% (compared to 43.4% for WSU).  I typically do not include the “neutral site” split because there are often not many games that fall in that bucket, so performance can certainly be skewed based on a solid or poor couple of games.  Lastly, and perhaps most important is the “Last 5 games” split that details how well or poor a team is playing right now.  Here the Cardinals have a huge edge offensively, while the Shockers have posted a sizeable edge defensively.  Louisville is +10.0% in FG%, while WSU is +5.1%, which is a pretty sizeable advantage to Ville.  However, the 3pt line is one area WSU sports a solid edge in this split, which is without question going to be critical come Saturday – WSU’s offense is shooting 35.6% (to Ville’s 30.0%) and Louisville’s defense is allowing 36.3% (while WSU’s defense allows just 29.95).  One more stat that should get some mention is the fact Louisville’s last five opponents are shooting just 62.7% from the FT line – which is very poor, and considering the Shockers shoot 69.8% on the season from the stripe (and 75.2% over last 5 games), we can expect WSU to certainly put up more points via the FT line compared to recent Cardinals opponents.  Based on those statistics it seems rebounding & 3pt shooting will have critical impacts on this matchup, with WSU needing to win both of those areas to have a chance to pull the upset as a double digit underdog.  This game is a clear uphill battle for the Shockers – they are facing a Louisville team that was already extremely hungry based on losing in last season’s Final Four, and now the Cardinals have the extra motivation following the injury to Kevin Ware.  I rarely lay double digits in any sport, and not sure I will be doing it here; but taking the other side seems just as risky as I believe the Shockers will need to hit eight plus 3pt shots, shoot 40% plus from 3pt land, get to the FT line 20+ times and make 80% of those shots, and win the rebounding battle – which seems like a lot to ask for.  This game is either a pass or on Louisville as fading the Cardinals at this point is too dangerous, but taking double digit favorites is equally as dangerous.
~849pm EDT - #4 Syracuse (30-9) vs. #4 Michigan (30-7): in the Saturday nightcap a pair of #4 seeds will battle it out for the first time in the history of the NCAA Tournament.  This game will feature our ONE & ONLY 10* SELECTION OF THE SEASON IN COLLEGE BASKETBALL!  So check the website & pick up this EASY WINNER!!!
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