Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 9:00 PM
There’s no doubt right now that the Louisville Cardinals are playing the best basketball in the NCAA Tournament. They’ve had the total package of great defense and potent offense (particularly with easy points being set up by that great defense!). And, that came on the heels of a sweep through the Big East tournament…which was arguably the toughest conference in the nation this year given the disappointing results for Indiana, Michigan State, and Wisconsin in the Big 10.
The deal is…you could make a case that the SECOND best basketball in the NCAA Tournament is being played by Wichita State. It sounds odd saying that about a mid-major. But, they ALSO have played great defense (particularly near the basket) while also having a very potent offense. Gonzaga can tell you all about Wichita State’s three-point making ability. But, it wasn’t treys that put the Shockers over the top after that upset. This is a well-coached team that is peaking at the right time.
Wichita State may be a #9 seed, but:
*They beat #1 seed Gonzaga
*They beat #2 seed Ohio State
*They beat #8 seed Pittsburgh who the computers had rated as more like a #3 or #4 seed
The Shockers didn’t luck into an easy draw. The Shockers are in the Final Four despite dealing with a very tough draw!
And, even if that doesn’t give them a chance to beat powerful Louisville outright, it certainly gives them a chance to cover a double digit spread. Let’s run the matchup through our gauntlet of key indicators to see just how interesting this game might become…
Wichita State: 30-8 (12-6 in the Missouri Valley)
Louisville: 33-5 (14-4 in the Big East)
Louisville had the better record in a MUCH stronger conference, which justifies the high Las Vegas spread. We should note that Wichita State is playing a lot better now than they were when they lost six games in league play. But, you could say the same thing about Louisville. It’s been a few weeks since they even had to sweat a finish.
Wichita State: #21 with Sagarin, #19 with Pomeroy
Louisville: #1 with Sagarin, #1 with Pomeroy
Louisville is a convincing #1 in the computers now…as both Jeff Sagarin of USA Today and college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy have the Cardinals on top (though it took Pomeroy longer than it should have). Wichita State has risen to the top 20, which is very respectable for a mid-major. With all the talk of Saint Louis, VCU, and Creighton being Dance darkhorses this year, it’s Wichita State who’s clearly been the most impressive.
COMPUTER STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE RANKINGS
Wichita State: #83 with Sagarin, #51 with Pomeroy
Louisville: #12 with Sagarin, #12 with Pomeroy
Big edge here to the Cardinals, as expected with their tough Big East schedule. Let’s point out again though that Wichita State hasn’t had it easy in the Dance…and they keep advancing.
WON-LOST RECORDS VS. SAGARIN’S TOP 50
Wichita State: 7-2
Wow…how about the Shockers winning 78% of their games vs. quality! It was only 3-2 entering the Dance of course…but 60% ain’t bad. Louisville’s run at 75% with 20 tough games is amazing. And, it’s clear that they’re playing better now than they were when most of that was accomplished. We obviously have TWO teams who know how to rise to the occasion.
POMEROY’S ADJUSTED OFFENSE RANKINGS
Wichita State: #33
Moving to the chess match…Louisville gets the edge here, though some of this is the result of cheap points coming off turnovers. If Wichita State can protect the ball when they have it…then Louisville becomes less efficient when they have it! Wichita State has more long range threats…and will probably need a replay of their Gonzaga performance if they have any hopes of making this a thriller.
POMEROY’S ADJUSTED DEFENSE RANKINGS
Wichita State: #23
Louisville isn’t just #1…they’re so far ahead of the pack that there’s not much point in discussing other defenses (outside of the Syracuse zone of course). It’s important for handicappers to know that Wichita State’s played very good defense in this tournament. They’ve held a few opponents in the 30’s percentage-wise on two-point shooting. If they can make this a half-court game, Louisville might have sequences of frustration trying to get the ball in the hoop.
POMEROY’S ADJUSTED TEMPO RANKINGS
Wichita State: #202
Louisville plays a faster pace, keyed by an attacking defense that leads to transition scoring. Wichita must slow this game to a crawl to give themselves a shot. The Shockers aren’t used to playing THAT slow. But, it’s a well-coached group of kids who are up to handling challenges.
Give that Louisville has been winning almost every postseason game they’ve played by double digits, you still have to assume an easy Cardinals victory. But, Wichita State does have a chance to make it interesting based on what we’ve seen above. And, if the Cardinals come in overconfident (always a danger for a great team that just spent a week reading press clippings about themselves), then a Cinderella finish is possible
JIM HURLEY’S Final Four Dance card will go up Saturday morning here at the website. We’re posting this preview on a Friday so we can devote two different preview reports to the semifinals. Visit Saturday morning and have your credit card handy for both Wichita State/Louisville and Syracuse/Michigan. If you have any questions about service, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453.
Back with you tomorrow to run the numbers in Syracuse/Michigan. Don’t make a move in THE NCAA FINAL FOUR until you hear what JIM HURLEY has to say!