Getting to the Final Four has a lot to do with circumstance and, of course, some luck, but each remaining team has a clear blueprint for success. As we get set for Saturday night, let’s take a look at the key strength of each of the teams. Think of it as the one thing the teams need to win.
Syracuse -- Big Guards
We talk a lot about Michael Carter-Williams' talent, but senior Brandon Triche is the heart of the Syracuse team. The two players are a dynamic duo: MCW and his nearly eight assists per game sets the table, while Triche’s toughness and perimeter shooting (29.5 percent this season and 35 percent last year) helps spread the floor. Michigan has its own combination of great guards with Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., but MCW and Triche seem tougher. The 'Cuse has only allowed 183 points, the fewest through the end of the Elite Eight games since the tournament expanded in 1985. These big guards at the top of the zone are immensely important.
Michigan -- Elite Offense
Per ESPN.com, Michigan has outscored its four tournament opponents by 0.23 points per possession, but even that statistic doesn’t do the team justice. While Burke and Hardaway Jr. certainly fuel the attack, the recent rise of freshman Mitch McGary in the middle has been a great addition. The key to this offense, however, is balance. Michigan can score from pretty much anywhere on the court, and McGary’s fellow freshmen Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III present quite the challenge for Syracuse because of their perimeter shooting abilities and mid-range shots.
Wichita State -- Toughness
The Missouri Valley Conference is one helluva league, but we really should be thinking of the Shockers as a Big Ten team by now. Of course we know the players can shoot the three -– just ask Gonzaga and Ohio State about that -– but for a team that lost three straight games this season to Indiana State, Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois, it has developed a remarkable defensive strategy. Wichita State, a No. 9 seed, surrenders just 43.4 percent on 2-point field goals and also ranks fourth in the nation in rebounding.
Louisville -- Quickness and Length
The Cardinals’ combination of superior quickness and length is unparalleled. Guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith harass players for 40 minutes with the help of a relentless trapping system and shot blocker Gorgui Dieng (2.5 per game). These traps can extend full-court, half-court and pretty much anywhere else. On the rare occasion that players get around the trapping system, the guards and wings have a lightning fast recovery time. Ironically, Rick Pitino doesn’t have the most talented team out of the Final Four, but Louisville –- which KenPom has slotted as the second best defensive team in the country –- makes up for its weaknesses. Even Duke, with a quality trio of guards in Seth Curry, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon, was coaxed into 11 turnovers and shot just 25 percent from the three-point line against Louisville.
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