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NCAA Final Four Atlanta: Inside the matchups of tourney semifinals

Peyton Siva #3 of the Louisville Cardinals

Peyton Siva #3 of the Louisville Cardinals Credit: Peyton Siva #3 of the Louisville Cardinals (Getty Images)

The long, winding road of the college basketball season reaches its destination this weekend with the Final Four on Saturday and national championship game on Monday. For Louisville, Wichita State, Syracuse or Michigan to be crowned national champion, they’ll still need two more victories. Here is a breakdown of each team going into the final weekend.

No. 1 Louisville
The Cardinals have dealt with their fair share of adversity following the scary injury suffered by Kevin Ware during the first half of the team’s Elite Eight matchup against Duke. That didn’t hold Louisville back, however, as the team advanced to its second straight Final Four and declined to cut down the nets in the hopes of climbing the ladder in Atlanta as the national champion.

Russ Smith leads the Cardinals with 18.1 ppg and Gorgui Dieng is a distant second with 10.2 ppg. Peyton Siva’s 5.8 apg leads the team and helps contribute to the big role-player mentality that makes Louisville successful. Chane Behanan, Wayne Blackshear, Luke Hancock and Montrezl Harrell round out the rotation and all average at least 16.5 minutes per game.

Against Wichita State on Saturday, Louisville will have to deal with multiple threats from Cleanthony Early, Carl Hall and Malcolm Armstead.

No. 9 Wichita State
The Shockers are the only remaining Cinderella team in this year’s tournament. They’re led by Early, who averages 13.7 ppg. He’s followed up by Hall with 12.5 ppg.

Playing time is distributed pretty evenly among seven players on the squad and no player stands out as a proficient, reliant scorer. That’s a departure from the style of the team’s opponent in Louisville, who has Smith carrying a large load of the scoring responsibilities.

While Wichita State faces a daunting task in its matchup with the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, the team is familiar with squads featuring one high-octane scorer. The Shockers defeated Ohio State, who had Desaun Thomas (19.5 ppg). While that wasn’t the difference in the game (Thomas scored 23 points), Wichita State will be in a better position to shut down Smith thanks to its familiarity with players like Thomas.

No. 4 Syracuse
The Orange are directed on the offensive end by guards Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams, but that doesn’t mean they are one-dimensional. Forward C.J. Fair leads the team in scoring and four players average double-digit points per game: Fair with 14.3, Triche with 13.7, forward James Southerland with 13.5 and Carter-Williams with 12.1.

Syracuse’s defensive end showcases the team’s famous 2-3 zone that has been used by coach Jim Boeheim throughout his career. The long arms of Southerland, Fair and Rakeem Christmas clog up any lanes that would be accessible while attacking a normal zone.

The Orange face Michigan in their semifinal matchup and will have to find a way to disrupt the Wolverines’ outside shot when the zone inevitably makes inside passes scarce. Michigan guard Trey Burke is shooting 38% from three-point range this season, including a game-tying 3-pointer near the end of the team’s Sweet Sixteen game against Kansas. Nik Stauskas leads the team with 45% accuracy from deep.

No. 4 Michigan
The Wolverines saw themselves on the brink of elimination in their Sweet Sixteen matchup with No. 1 Kansas when  they pulled out a 87-85 victory in overtime after being down as many as 14 points with seven minutes remaining. A big reason for the comeback was Burke, who scored all 23 of his points after halftime, including a game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation.

Now, Michigan will have to rely on that long-range shooting more than ever before in this year’s tournament. The team will have to find a way to bust the Syracuse zone and open up lanes for the likes of Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan. That strategy will have to center around Stauskas, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Burke. Michigan has a leg up, as it has the advantage of being a guard-centered team
 

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