After falling in last year's Elite Eight, the Orange surged past No. 3 Marquette to book a ticket to Atlanta
And then there were four.
Michigan and Louisville have joined Syracuse and Wichita State to complete the 2013 Final Four. Both the Wolverines and the Cardinals won decisively on Sunday to punch their tickets to Atlanta.
Herein, the postgame analysis for all four Elite Eight games, along with a look ahead to the matchups each squad will face next Saturday in the national semifinals.
The Michigan Wolverines put on a shooting clinic to smash the Florida Gators, 79-59. Led by Nik Stauskas, the Maize and Blue went 10-of-19 from three-point range in the romp, holding a double-digit lead for virtually the entire game.
Michigan opened on a 13-0 run and never looked back. The Wolverines supplemented their long-range offense with plenty of fast-break points, including several easy layups for Mitch McGary after he'd beaten slower defenders down the floor.
The Gators big men didn't fare much better on the offensive end, with the usually reliable Erik Murphy shooting 0-of-11 from the field. Florida also struggled to get its own offense from beyond the arc, with Mike Rosario's 0-of-4 performance at the forefront.
Florida tried to rattle the Wolverines with the shifting defenses that have been so effective for Billy Donovan this season, but none of the Gators' options were working in this game. Against man-to-man, Trey Burke repeatedly drove into the paint to make plays, while the zone that kept Burke outside allowed open looks for Stauskas and the other three-point shooters.
Stauskas lit it up from long range, pouring in 22 points (including 6-of-6 from deep). Trey Burke, meanwhile, racked up eight boards, seven assists and three steals to go with a quiet 15 points. Mitch McGary continued his dynamic postseason performance, finishing with 11 points, nine rebounds and an eye-opening five steals.
Will Yeguete played an outstanding game off the Gators bench with 13 points and seven rebounds, while Casey Prather added seven more points for the reserves. The starters didn't fare nearly so well, but Scottie Wilbekin did manage seven assists and three steals.
The Gators’ significant size advantage down low came to naught as Michigan turned the rebounding battle into a 34-34 draw.
Michigan takes on East Regional champ Syracuse in the national semifinals next Saturday. The Wolverines’ host of jump-shooters would seem to be the perfect antidote to the mighty Orange zone—if it weren’t for the fact that the same could have been said about the Indiana team that got squished by Syracuse, 61-50.
The Louisville Cardinals avenged a loss in November’s Battle 4 Atlantis by hammering the Duke Blue Devils, 85-63, Sunday in Indianapolis. Louisville’s smothering defense forced a second-half scoring drought for Duke that allowed the Cards to pull away in what had been a closely fought game.
Louisville reserve Kevin Ware suffered a gruesome broken leg in the first half. His absence appeared to have little on-court effect, but the severity of the injury clearly shook up players on both sides.
Two Cardinals who aren’t normally expected to score much, Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng, combined for 30 points on outstanding 12-of-18 shooting to key the Louisville offense. Rick Pitino’s squad shot so well from short range that its 2-of-13 three-point performance really didn’t matter.
Duke, meanwhile, couldn’t get its own long-range shooters on track, shooting 4-of-16 from beyond the arc. The Blue Devils defense didn’t fare much better, forcing just eight turnovers for the game.
Russ Smith was, as usual, the game’s high scorer with 23 points for the Cards. Dieng added 11 rebounds, two steals and four blocks to his 14 points.
Mason Plumlee finished his college career with a solid 17-point, 12-board effort, leading Duke in both categories. Quinn Cook played a strong all-around game against Siva, amassing 12 points (though on just 3-of-11 shooting), four boards and five assists.
Whenever Duke tried to attack the paint, it was greeted with a forest of Cardinals arms, as Louisville (nominally the smaller team) blocked nine shots on the day (versus the Blue Devils' two).
The win sends the Cardinals to a national semifinal matchup with the upset-minded Shockers of Wichita State. Even as good as Carl Hall and the Shockers forwards have been in this Cinderella postseason, Dieng and Chane Behanan will make life very tough for them inside. Add in the relentless Louisville pressure, and Wichita State’s run will likely end on Saturday in Atlanta.
Syracuse's zone defense squelched any semblance of Marquette’s offense, and the Orange advanced to their first Final Four since 2003 with a 55-39 win.
Jim Boeheim’s vaunted zone defense limited Marquette to just 22 percent shooting (12-of-53), and the 39 points allowed tied an Elite Eight record-low, via ESPN Stats and Info.
Syracuse’s offense was average, but it didn’t need to be any better with such an impenetrable zone defense. Not only could the Golden Eagles rarely get the ball below the free-throw line, but the Orange’s length directly led to 13 turnovers and numerous fast-break chances.
Syracuse had a major size advantage with 6'6" Michael Carter-Williams over 6'1" Junior Cadougan, and Carter-Williams picked apart Marquette’s man-to-man defense by driving in the lane and finding cutting teammates. Forwards James Southerland and C.J. Fair were each effective as well, stretching the Golden Eagle forwards to the perimeter and then blowing by them en route to the hoop. They combined for 29 points.
Carter-Williams finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and five assists to continue his sterling tournament performance. He was so good that Marquette tried at least three different defenders on him.
Fair was phenomenal, using his athleticism to finish from both sides of the basket en route to 13 points. Fair was also a pest in the lanes, recording three steals and two blocks.
Marquette's Davante Gardner was its only zone-buster, but his 14 points and seven rebounds weren't enough to carry the Eagles. Tournament star Vander Blue finished just 3-of-15 for 14 points.
The zone. Marquette was an awful three-point shooting team throughout the season, and Saturday, it was forced to rely on low-percentage outside shots with nothing else working on the offensive end. The Golden Eagles shot 3-of-25 from deep.
Syracuse will face Michigan next Saturday for the right to play for the national title. Carter-Williams' matchup with the Wolverines' Trey Burke should be one of the most exciting individual battles of the tournament.
Momentum is an extraordinarily difficult thing to combat, but Wichita State weathered a furious second-half rally from the Buckeyes to secure the program’s second-ever trip to the Final Four with Saturday’s 70-66 win.
Down 53-33 with just 12 minutes remaining in their season, Buckeyes forward LaQuinton Ross scored eight of Ohio State’s next 10 points. From there, the Buckeyes locked down on defense, hustled to loose balls, forced turnovers and hit timely free throws, and at one point cut the deficit to three.
Deshaun Thomas came alive with 10 points over the final 7:41, but in the end, the Shockers cemented a historic upset and booked a trip to Atlanta.
With the win, the Shockers became just the second No. 9 seed (Pennsylvania, 1979) to ever advance to the Final Four.
Wichita State did it the way it's done it throughout the entire tournament, using physical interior defense, team rebounding and superior three-point shooting. The Shockers also endured two scary injuries to their two leading scorers—an elbow to Carl Hall’s chin and a twisted ankle from Cleanthony Early—en route to securing the victory. Both eventually returned to the game.
Hall, who missed parts of the game due to the elbow, finished with just eight points and four rebounds, but it was his six blocks which kept Ohio State from intruding in the paint. Ron Baker helped secure the victory with numerous clutch free throws down the stretch, as the freshman hit all nine of his attempts. Deshaun Thomas struggled in the first half, but he finished 8-of-20 for 23 points. He was 0-of-6 from beyond the arc.
As I said in the preview, Ohio State’s big men were nonexistent. Amir Williams and Evan Ravenel combined for five rebounds and zero points as the Shockers’ size took over. The lane was wide open for guards Fred Van Vleet (12 points) and Malcolm Armstead (14 points) to drive and finish with little resistance. That dribble capability opened up looks from the perimeter, where the Shockers knocked down 8-of-20 threes.
The Shockers will play Louisville next Saturday at the Georgia Dome. Having survived the Buckeyes defense, Wichita State will certainly test the top-seeded Cards. But Louisville likely has too much individual firepower for Hall and his mates to handle.