Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 10:12 AM
The NCAA Tournament's Final Four this weekend in Atlanta has a boatload of storylines - yes, none is bigger than the fact Louisville's Kevin Ware will be in the building one week after busting his leg in the Elite 8 win against Duke - but one topic that we've not heard a whole lot about is the winning streaks that these four teams take into the Georgia Dome.
Here's the breakdown with a comment on each Final Four squad ...
WICHITA STATE (30-8) - The West Regional champs have won four games in a row while heading into Saturday's 6:08 p.m. ET clash with Louisville (remember the Shockers were beaten in the Missouri Valley Conference Championship Game 68-65 versus Creighton) but dig a little deeper and you'll see Gregg Marshall's squad has won 11 of its last 14 overall games and so there was real momentum heading into this "Big Dance" in the first place. The Shockers have lost only one game by a twin-figure margin since late January - the 91-80 defeat at Creighton in the regular-season finale was the only time in Wichita State's last 16 games that this MVC club has been beaten by 10-or-more points -- and naturally we bring this factoid up because Louisville's currently a 10 ½-point betting favorite for this Saturday's Final Four game.
LOUISVILLE (33-5) - The win streak sits at 14 games in a row for the Cardinals who - famously - last lost 104-101 in a five-OT classic at Notre Dame all the way back on February 9th. In case you were not aware, the Big East Tournament champions have won 12 of these last 14 games by 11-or-more points thus suggesting Rick Pitino's crew is more than capable of covering the hefty Las Vegas price tag even without key reserve Ware as part of the action. Maybe what sticks out with this here-and-now Louisville squad is the fact that the Cardinals' scoring has increased in this tournament with the Redbirds averaging a haughty 80.5 points per game in the wins against North Carolina A&T, Colorado State, Oregon and Duke after the 'Ville averaged "only" 70.6 ppg in the previous 10 games. Maybe the fact that - save for Duke - the tournament competition has been a drop in class for a Louisville team that played 21 consecutive Big East foes prior to this year's NCAAs.
MICHIGAN (30-7) - The funny thing about these Wolverines is that their late-season play gave no real indication that they'd be a big hit in this NCAA Tournament. Overall, John Beilein's club has a modest four-game SU (straight-up) winning streak that includes - obviously - just the games played in this tourney but go back to February 1st and trace things to the end of the Big 10 Tournament and you'll see the maize-and-blue posted a mediocre 6-6 SU mark that included a 23-point loss at archrival Michigan State, an 8-point loss at Indiana and a 9-point setback in Wisconsin. Now, here's Michigan in the betting favorite's role (albeit just 2 points) against Syracuse in this Final Four clash fresh off yielding 59, 53 and 56 points in three of the team's four NCAA Tournament games ... hmmm.
SYRACUSE (30-9) - Here's something you might not have known about this Orange gang: They've rolled up a spiffy 7-1 SU mark in its last eight games after having lost four-of-five games between February 23rd and March 9th and Jim Boeheim's club has been beaten twice by possible Championship Game foe Louisville since March 2nd. In other words, it has been a real case of feast-or-famine for the upstate New York team in the past 45 days or so and you wonder how this little break from last Saturday's win against Marquette to this Saturday's game against Michigan will effect the Orange who played four games in as many days in last month's Big East Tournament in New York City ... remember?
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers have roared through this 2013 College Basketball post-season with NCAA Tournament, NIT, CBI and CIT winners and there's more to come in all of these post-season tournies plenty there's plenty of NBA and Major-League Baseball Winners (7-1 on this young season!) on tap too when you sign up today and be sure to check in with us either right here online or else at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 for all the winning selections. Note that the check-in times are anytime after 1 p.m. ET for all the NBA and College Basketball weeknight action and after 12 noon ET for all the weekday Baseball. We'll have Final Four Side & Totals Winners this Saturday after 10 a.m. ET and get all weekend winners after 10 a.m. ET on Saturday/Sundays.
In other College Basketball News & Notes ...Let's take a moment to weigh in on the coaching changes that have taken place within the past week:
UCLA - The Pac-12 school believed that Ben Howland had grown stale in Hollywood even though the team had played a more up-tempo style this year but the funny thing is new coach Steve Alford also places major demands on his players to defend - just ask the kids at New Mexico - and so this might not always feel like a proper fit although Alford has "name recognition" and could woo more big-time recruits to Pauley Pavilion. Gee, it would have been nice if Alford had allowed the ink to dry on his recently signed 10-year deal with Los Lobos before he headed west.
USC - Andy Enfield's stock has been going up, up and away these days after his heady Florida Gulf Coast team snagged back-to-back NCAA Tournament wins as a lowly #15 seed and this seems a perfect match if for no other reason than the Trojans have been hunting for a true identity for years now and Enfield's get-out-and-go offensive philosophy will lure some wonderful LA-area players to his side of town. Sorry, we can't blast Enfield for taking the money and running to the left coast because anyone who can elevate their status from Atlantic Sun to the Pac-12 has gotta do it, right?
Texas Tech - Okay, so we've seen the reports that Tubby Smith doesn't seem to be a real good "fit" here but must disagree with that logic because Smith gets average-to-above-average players to buy into his defensive schemes and fully believe this will be a hungry T-Tech Red Raiders team that takes the floor nightly next year in Lubbock. It sure gets the Techsters back in the realm of relevant hoops discussion after this program floundered badly in the post-Bob Knight days.
Northwestern - Thank goodness Chris Collins finally flew the Duke coop after serving since 2000 on Mike Krzyzewski's staff and fully expect Collins to bring all his Blue Devils principles with him to Evanston. No doubt the locals tired of the whole Bill Carmody Era of back-door passes and low-scoring games - Northwestern might not win the Big 10 anytime soon but the Wildcats will be vastly more entertaining and might hold their own more times than not against the likes of Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State.
Rutgers - Okay, so the Scarlet Knights will be hiring soon after the disgraceful end of the Mike Rice Era that proved video can be hazardous to one's employment health. If the soon-to-be-Big 10 team wants to "fly right" after this messy situation, it'll hire a "can't-miss" type of guy with Eastern roots and right now we're thinking Syracuse assistant coach Mike Hopkins (passed over for the USC job) would be a neat fit here.
NIT CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
BAYLOR (22-14) vs. IOWA (25-12) - 9 p.m. ET, espn2
No doubt the Big 10 has "bigger fish to fry" with Michigan eyeballing a potential NCAA Championship these next few days but the country's best conference this 2012-13 campaign has eyes on the NIT prize here as the Iowa Hawkeyes zoom into tonight's title tilt having won 11 of their last 14 overall games including Tuesday's solid 71-60 triumph over 3-point underdog Maryland. The 'Eyes capitalized on a sloppy Terps team with 27 points coming off 17 Maryland turnovers and swingman Roy Devyn Marble piled up 21 points and 9 boards while proving to be too much for an enigmatic Terrapins bunch.
Here, Marble and Company might want to take it down a notch in terms of tempo - after all, this Baylor team doesn't mind stepping on the gas at all!
Note that the Baylor Bears were the NIT Championship Game losers back in 2009 (fell to Penn State; see chart below) but if Scott Drew's club is gonna nab this near pick 'em affair than guard Pierre Jackson (24 points and 10 assists in the 76-70 semifinal win against 3 ½-point dog BYU this past Tuesday night) must drive, dish and make a few trips to the foul line too while three-point maven Brady Heslip (0-for-5 FGs against BYU) has to come out of his mini-funk ... or else.
In case you were wondering, here's a list of the last 10 NIT Championship Game winners:
2012 - Stanford def. Minnesota
2011 - Wichita State def. Alabama
2010 - Dayton def. North Carolina
2009 - Penn State def. Baylor
2008 - Ohio State def. Massachusetts
2007 - West Virginia def. Clemson
2006 - South Carolina def. Michigan
2005 - South Carolina def. St. Joseph's
2004 - Michigan def. Rutgers
2003 - St. John's def. Georgetown (vacated)
NOTE: Lots more NCAA Tournament Final Four coverage all week long right here at Jim Sez and tomorrow catch our in-depth Game Previews of Wichita State vs. Louisville and Michigan vs. Syracuse.