And Then There Were Four

Photo by David E. Klutho/SI/sportsillustrated.cnn.com Posted by: Curt Ashcraft (@cashcraft740)

Edited by: Tommy Parrill (@DearTommy)

It was just two weeks ago when the world was preparing for the annual 68 team national tournament.  We saw three of the four #1 seeds go down, as well as the likes of Ohio State, Georgetown, Butler and Duke.  Now, after sifting through 64 Eagles, Hurricanes and Bulldogs, we are down to the Final Four.  The Louisville Cardinals, Michigan Wolverines, Syracuse Orange and the Shockers of Wichita State make up the remaining four, and the match-ups couldn’t be better.

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All tournament long, the Wolverines have lived from the perimeter.  Burke, Hardaway Jr. and Robinson III have been their usual clutch selves, but with the Freshman Maple Leaf, Nik Stauskas, becoming untouchable from 3-City, USA, Michigan’s potential is incredible.  Having a chance to watch the Maze & Blue all season long, this is a team that would look so good for 10 games, and then they would go and lose to freaking PENN STATE! I still have no idea how that happened, but I guess anything is possible.  The one thing that has been the same from the season opener to now is the dominance of Trey Burke.  The Big Ten Player of the Year and possibly the front-runner for the Naismith National POY, Burke has continued to dish, drive and drain his way to the top of the Michigan Mountain.  Granted, this Michigan club is as young and talented as any team in the country, and with the Columbus-native leading the way, it may be a Maze & Blue trail to the national title.  The only problem for the Wolverines is that the yellow brick road has to go through a sea of orange named Syracuse.

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The Orangemen and Syracuse staple Jim Boeheim have been as solid as you can get throughout the tournament.  Boeheim has always had a good track record of coaching in March Madness, but it is this years team that truly signifies that defense wins championships.  There is no question that the likes of James Southerland and C.J. Fair know how to finish at the hoop, but the real champion of this team is their 2-3-zone defense.  It isn’t always the defense you run, but how you run it, and Syracuse runs their zone defense as good as anyone in the country.  You can’t really center the success around one guy, but Michael Carter Williams has been the all-around player that coaches dream of. Stealing, scoring and grabbing boards is the name of Carter-Williams' game.  He looks like he just graduated from kindergarten, but plays like a seasoned veteran.  The offense and defense truly run through him, and with the young one on his game, Syracuse may have their best chance yet.  I really like the way that Michigan has been shooting the ball thus far, but the question remains, can they keep it up against the lock-down defense of the Orange?

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Before I go on about the David and Goliath pairing of Louisville and Wichita State, we here at Our Sports Report give our deepest condolences and prayers to Kevin Ware and the Louisville Cardinal's family after the horrific leg injury that Mr. Ware endured this past Sunday.  By far one of the most gruesome things I have ever witness, and we wish him a speedy recovery and the best of luck to him in his future.  While on the Cardinal topic, it is the #1 Overall seeded Louisville Cardinals who have been playing the best basketball of the tournament.  No matter if it is an injury or an off-shooting night, the Cardinals have found a way to power through it.  Russ Smith has proven to be the primary scorer, and Gorgui Dieng is using his 6’11” frame to his advantage, but the glue that holds Pitino’s Posse together is Senior Guard, Peyton Siva.  As I sat down and watched the Duke game yesterday, Siva was in charge.  I have enjoyed watching him play his entire career, and he has yet to disappoint.  This is a kid that thrives in the big games, wants the ball whenever he can get it and whether that means taking it to the hoop, setting up a play, or orchestrating a beautiful dish, not many are better in the NCAA than Siva.  The Cardinals have been better than good, and they will have to keep that up if they want to hold off the shock of Wichita State.

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Most people would call the Shockers a Cinderella story, but they are far from that.  Wichita State spent most of the season in the Top 25 ranks and have already taken down Pittsburgh, Gonzaga and Ohio State.  The Shockers are nothing to mess with, and I know this as a Buckeye fan.  This team has lived on Carl Hall and Cleanthony Early all season long, but it is the emergence of Malcolm Armstead and Ron Baker that has helped Wichita State succeed in the tournament like they have.  Armstead has a dangerous combination of defense and speed, while Hall finishes so well and swats anything in sight (plus, you’ve got to love the rec specs).  Personally, I can’t help but love Ron Baker.  The freshman out of Scott City, Kansas is not afraid of any shot, and going up against Louisville, he will need to keep that fearless attitude.  The thing that really makes Baker deadly is his ability to be a dominant scorer at the free throw line.  As we march to the end of the dance, the consistent free throw shooting teams shine, and as long as Baker and the Shocker’s continue to let it fly from the charity stripe, the shock and aw may continue to the title game.  I do like Wichita State and I will be pulling for them, but I believe that Louisville is just too strong for the Shockers and Louisville will move on once again.

So whatever game you are most excited for, it is guaranteed to be a good one.  Just like I recommended at the beginning of the tournament, kick off your shoes, grab a cold brew and get ready for the most exciting NCAA Tournament to date! Bring it on A-T-L!