We're less than 24 hours until the Final Four begins in Atlanta, so we've scanned the Internet to shed some light on storylines that will impact how the games are played, and possibly how you place your wagers.
Wichita State vs. Louisville (-10.5, 133) 6:09 p.m. ET
Louisville: Eamonn Brennan of ESPN.com has an in-depth story on what makes the
Cardinals good offensively and defensively with the help of a coach's eye.
Villanova assistant coach Billy Lange described what he thought was the best approach to playing Louisville:
We were talking about one specific aspect of Louisville's style -- in
this case its amorphous matchup-zone defense -- and Lange was explaining
that the Cardinals are so good on that end of the floor, and so able to
switch defense on a whim, that you can't really devise a game plan with
sets and quick-hitters the way you can most normal defenses. You have
to settle for giving your players broad concepts -- protect the ball,
make the extra pass, penetrate and kick -- and hope they can get it from
Point A to Point B without being micromanaged.
Lange said that a team's instincts are going to be important to beat Louisville down the court. He says clearly:
"If you get robotic against them, they're going to eat you alive," Lange
said. "They're going to kick your [butt]. I mean they'll just
straight-up kick your [butt]."
Wichita State: "They're Marquette on steroids," Louisville coach Rick
Pitino said to describe Wichita State's defense at the Final Four media
"If you grab an offensive rebound, they slap it away," he said. "They
don't let you go into the paint without four guys attacking you. They
are the toughest team to score against."
Pitino's sentiments were justified by C.L. Brown of The Courier-Journal:
The Shockers (30-8) held West Regional top seed Gonzaga -- a team that
shot 50.1 percent for the season -- to just 35.6 percent. They
frustrated the Bulldogs' top two scorers, making Kelly Olynyk take 22
shots to net 26 points and holding Elias Harris to 2-of-8 shooting.
After dispatching Gonzaga 76-70, the Shockers dismantled No. 2 Ohio
State in the regional final in a similar fashion. They held the Buckeyes
to a season-low 22 points in the first half.
Wichita State is holding opponents to 34 percent field goal shooting and
25 percent 3-point shooting in the tournament. Which led Pitino to say
"I'll say this without any exaggeration," he said. "They're the best team we will have faced this year at the defensive end."
Michigan vs. Syracuse (2, 131) 8:49 p.m. ET
Syracuse: There are only a few guarantees in life: death, taxes, Christmas falls on December 25, and Syracuse will play a 2-3 zone defense. The Orange's defense has been out of this world in the tournament, holding teams to 45.8 points a game, on 29 percent shooting from the field and 15 percent from beyond the arc.
But the question posed by Bud Poliquin of Syracuse.com, why doesn't everyone follow head coach Jim Boeheim's lead and play the 2-3 exclusively?
"I don't know," answered [assistant coach Mike] Hopkins. "Maybe coaches are on Page 172 of 'The Coaching Handbook' and it says, 'Thou shalt not play zone.' It's amazing, really, because the zone wins. I mean, just look around."
"Coach has revolutionized it," Hopkins declared. "It's not normal. He sees it differently. He's changed everything. It's not like, 'Hey, let's stand around and wave our arms and call it a zone.' There are reads and rotations and reactions. You need IQ guys to play it. It's like the batter who can hit a 100-miles-per-hour fastball. Not everybody can do it."
Why are the pieces at Syracuse's disposal suited for playing the zone at a high level?
"You've got a fifth-year senior (James Southerland) and a junior (C.J. Fair) at the forward spot," explained Mike Hopkins, Boeheim's chief aide. "You've got a guy like Baye (Moussa Keita) who's played a lot of minutes in the middle with Rakeem (Christmas). We go 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-5 in the backcourt where Brandon (Triche) is a senior and Michael (Carter-Williams) is a gargantuan. And Jerami Grant has picked it up better than any freshman I've ever seen."
Michigan: Knowing what he is going against on Saturday, Michigan head coach John Beilein is preparing his team accordingly for the zone.
He was using his reserves, including 6-foot-10 forward Blake McLimans, to play at the top of the zone to simulate the length that they will see with Orange 6-foot-6 point guard Michael Carter-Williams.
Writes Everett Cook of Michigandaily.com:
On top of that, Michigan coach John Beilein implemented a new drill for his perimeter players. A whistle sounded during offensive run throughs, and whichever Wolverine had the ball had to jack up a shot, even if they were three to four fee behind the 3-point line.
Michigan freshman guard Nik Stauskas drained all six 3-point shots against Florida in the Elite Eight and if they shoot at their tournament average of 40.2 percent from behind the arc, they have a good chance of busting the zone. Stauskas also believed its a positive to have a week to prepare for the new defense.
"Before, we got like 36 hours to cram in all this information," Stauskas said. "Sometimes, when you're sitting in film for a couple hours, all the information doesn't really sink in just because it's so much at once. Dividing it up over five or six days makes it a lot easier to take in.