The 2013 Big East Championship Game is just a few hours away, and anticipation is mounting. Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals are set to defend their title against the Jim Boeheim-led Syracuse Orange squad, and it's easily anyone's game.
Fans should tune in to this match because it is not only the end of the Big East tournament as we know it—what with the conference's Catholic schools forming the new Big East next year and Syracuse heading to the ACC—but because both teams bring their own unique attacks.
While Pitino employs a modified run-and-gun game with a focus on feisty defense from start to finish, Boeheim uses more of an isolation game with this team. With tipoff hours away, fans should prepare for an epic battle from beginning to end.
Time: Saturday, March 16, 8:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Records: Louisville (28-5, 14-4 conference) vs. Syracuse (26-8, 11-7 conference)
Syracuse X-Factor: Michael Carter-Williams, PG
Communication, distribution and taking care of the ball are what will win this game for Syracuse, and that means Michael Carter-Williams must be at the top of his game against Louisville's pesky defense.
In his sophomore season, Carter-Williams averaged 12 points, 7.7 assists and 2.8 steals per game. In the Big East tournament thus far, he has cut down his scoring to just 6.7 points so that he can focus on getting the ball to his teammates. As a result, he has posted nine assists per contest while also managing 2.3 steals.
It also helps that Carter-Williams is extremely tall for a point guard at 6'6", which should give him an advantage against speedy Cardinals point man Peyton Siva, who is just 6'0".
If he can slow down Siva and get the ball to his teammates under defensive pressure, then the Orange will head to the NCAA tournament as Big East champions. Even if he has a bad game and the team loses, it's going to be hard to say that the Orange didn't leave for the ACC at the top of their game, even if it was as runners-up.
Louisville X-Factor: Russ Smith, G
Louisville's scoring attack starts and stops with Smith, who averaged 18.3 points per game in his junior season. He doesn't have much size at 6'1", 165 pounds, but he has proved to be an excellent slasher.
The only mark against Smith is that he is shooting just 41 percent from the field and 33 percent from long range. If he's off his shooting game or streaky against Syracuse, it's going to be a lot harder for Louisville to walk away with a second consecutive conference championship.
However, Smith has a unique advantage. A Brooklyn native, he is sure to have plenty of support from the crowd on top of the friends and family who will already be cheering for him.
If he can turn that support into results, then the Cardinals will have plenty to look forward to both on Selection Sunday and in the upcoming national tournament.
This game is going to be a dogfight from beginning to end, and the winner won't be clear until just minutes remain in the second half.
In this case, that team is going to be Louisville, which will run, pick and pop its way to a second consecutive Big East championship. Syracuse may have some momentum following a thrilling overtime win against Georgetown, but Louisville is playing for a little something more. The Cardinals are the reigning Big East champs and aren't likely to give up the crown easily.
Thanks to a fine game from Russ Smith and key threes from Luke Hancock, not to mention an excellent interior performance from Gorgui Dieng, Louisville will be the team celebrating once the final buzzer sounds.
Louisville 68, Syracuse 63