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2013 Final Four: Louisville Will Win, But Wichita State Deserves Respect

Adam Levin |
April 6, 2013 | 3:36 a.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall has done an impeccable job leading his team to the Final Four (Thomsonmg2000/Wikimedia Commons)
Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall has done an impeccable job leading his team to the Final Four (Thomsonmg2000/Wikimedia Commons)
Who will advance to the National Championship game? The No. 9-seeded Wichita State Shockers or the No. 1-seeded Louisville Cardinals?

Before I make a prediction, let's take a look at how each team has made it to the Final Four.

The Shockers have beaten Pittsburgh, Gonzaga, La Salle and Ohio St. on their way to the Final Four. How surprising is it that they have made it this far? Extremely surprising. Historically, the Shockers are just the fourth nine-seed or lower to reach the Final Four since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 (the other three were all 11 seeds).

Wichita State's run is also extremely improbable according to the advanced stats. In Kenpom.com's rankings the Shockers started the year ranked 44th and did not crack the top 20 until after their most recent game. They also did not win their conference's regular-season title or tournament and, at one point in the season, they lost consecutive games to Indiana State (ranked 106th at the time), Northern Iowa (ranked 75th), and Southern Illinois (179th). But this wild season would not be complete without a big underdog like Wichita State making such an improbable run.

So much credit must go to the head coach, Gregg Marshall, for taking a team without highly touted recruits and making it this far. So who is on this team? Well, their leading scorer is Cleanthony Early, a 6-foot-8 forward, who transferred from a Division III junior college (yes, really). Their second leading scorer is Carl Hall, also a 6-foot-8 forward, who was working at a factory in his hometown as recently as three years ago. This tournament, however, they are led by lefty point guard Malcolm Armstead, who is averaging 15.5 points (on 36 percent shooting), 5.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists. Above all, the Shockers have played together as a team that has put a ton of faith in their coach. 

The Cardinals have defeated North Carolina A&T, Colorado State, Oregon and Duke on their way to the Final Four. Unlike Wichita State, it is no surprise that Louisville has made it this far. In fact, 27 of 34 analysts from ESPN, CBS Sports, USA Today, SI.com, and Yahoo! picked the Cardinals to win the tournament before it began. They received the overall No. 1 seed in part because of their consistent play throughout the year: they have not fallen out of the top 10 of Kenpom.com's rankings at any point in the season and have not fallen out of the top five since Dec. 5.

Coach Rick Pitino utilizes the quickness of his backcourt to apply suffocating pressure to opponents; they have forced more turnovers than any other team in the tournament. In the first two games of its tournament run, Louisville forced turnovers in 35.9 percent of its opponent's possessions, a jarring statistic from Luke Winn of SI.com. 

It must be noted, however, that Kevin Ware has forced the second-most turnovers of anyone on the team during the tournament – defensive production the Cardinals will sorely miss. Ware is personally responsible for forcing 23 percent of the turnovers that Louisville's defense has produced even though he has only been on the floor 40 percent of the time. This means that if every player on the team had the same turnover efficiency, Ware, with those minutes, would be expected to contribute 8 percent of the turnovers forced, yet he contributed 23 percent. With this efficiency, Ware could have been the best defensive player on the Cardinals during the tournament. Surely Louisville has the athletes to step up in his place and with how heroic Ware has been through his injury, it might end up being an inspirational edge for the Cardinals in Atlanta.

If you are a stathead, you have to love Louisville's chances to get past Wichita State on Saturday.

Here are a few of the numbers (via Kenpom.com):

Louisville - 117.5 Off. Efficiency (6th), 81.6 Def. Efficiency (1st), No. 1-ranked team in the country

Wichita St. - 110.9 Off. Efficiency (33rd), 89.9 Def. Efficiency (23rd), No. 19-ranked team in the country

However, what the Shockers do have going for them (besides their nickname) is confidence: they feel as though they can play with anyone in the country after hanging tough with Ohio State in their last game. As assistant coach Steve Merfeld told ESPN.com, "They play with that confidence that when they step on the floor, they're supposed to win…" At the same time, coach Gregg Marshall has ample respect for the challenge he is up against in playing against Louisville. He’s also saying all the right things going into the game. 

The Shockers are certainly no joke, but it seems to me that Louisville has too much ethos behind Ware to get beat. Louisville wins 65-53.

Reach Staff Writer Adam Levin here.



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