March Madness 2013: Picking Final Four Games Against the Spread
Unpredictability is trumped by talent.
While the 2012-13 college hoops season has been the epitome of unpredictable, and forecasting the outcomes seems silly, we know exactly what we're going to get from the teams in the Final Four.
Syracuse, Michigan, Wichita State and Louisville are all heading to Atlanta for a reason. They are playing their best basketball of the season. They are consistent. They have continued to excel at a high level, game in and game out.
When you are able to confidently judge every team at its very best, the unpredictability disappears and predictions become easier.
So, let's take a look at what to expect in the Georgia Dome.
Note: Odds courtesy of Vegas Insider
Syracuse over Michigan (-2.5)
The popular opinion is that you beat the 2-3 zone with good three-point shooting, and while that is sometimes true, it is also too simplistic an approach.
Against Syracuse's length and athleticism, there is hardly ever an open shot from the outside, so don't expect Nik Stauskas and Michigan's deadly outside shooters to light up Atlanta.
In four tournament wins, the Orange have given up a total of 183 points and a staggering 0.71 points per possession, which is a historically low number. Their opponents are a combined—wait for it—14-of-92 from long range, a mark of 15.2 percent.
Trey Burke's almost unstoppable ability to penetrate the middle will serve as a crucial tool against the zone, but Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche have the length to at least frustrate him and limit his impact.
Another way to beat the zone is to have a big man capable of catching the ball at the free-throw line, turning and knocking down the mid-range jumper. Mitch McGary has been unbelievably impressive this tournament, but that's not one of his strengths.
While I worry about Syracuse's ability to score on a suddenly improving Michigan defense, I'll take the points (and the team that will favor the style) in a lower-scoring game.
Louisville (-10) over Wichita State
I'll let Grantland's Shane Ryan sum this one up:
As for Wichita, Pitino will look at them, whisper the word "press," and they will faint— Shane Ryan (@ShaneRyanHere) March 31, 2013
The Cardinals are playing unbelievable basketball right now. This is nothing against Wichita State. I might pick Rick Pitino's squad to beat the Charlotte Bobcats by double-digits if I had the choice.
Who will it be in the national championship?
Russ Smith is playing efficient, confident basketball, which is dangerous for anything (yes, anything, humans are out of the question) trying to slow down his electrifying speed. Peyton Siva is the perfect floor general, especially in March. Gorgui Dieng protects the basket like few others are capable of. The role players are producing. The pressure defense is absolutely suffocating and leads to easy offense.
The Shockers turned the ball over just 13 times against VCU's ferocious press (and won, on the road) in November, but if the way they "handled" Ohio State's press (Ohio State is great defensively, but it is not Louisville) in the final 10 minutes on Saturday is any indication, they are in deep doo-doo against the Cardinals.
Gregg Marshall is an absolute genius. I don't like betting against him. But throw in the extra motivation of the Cardinals playing for Kevin Ware (as if they really need it) and this one has blowout written all over it.
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