It wasn't easy to reach this plateau, but the 2013 NCAA tournament has finally come to the Final Four. The four surviving teams are the Louisville Cardinals, Wichita State Shockers, Michigan Wolverines and Syracuse Orange.
The question is, what is the advantage every team holds over the opposition?
For some, there is a style of play that defines their greatness. Whether that's a defensive schematic or a style of offense, certain teams have reached their current level of success by way of approach over pure ability.
For others, there is an undeniable X-factor in the star that leads their team. Regardless of what it is, each of the Final Four teams has a specific trait that makes them elite.
So what is it that makes each national championship contender great?
Louisville Cardinals: Defensive Versatility
Often, a college basketball defense thrives with one specific approach. For instance, the VCU Rams are most notable for their full-court defense that has infamously been titled "Havoc."
When it comes to the Louisville Cardinals, however, their No. 1 advantage over any opponent is their defensive versatility.
With Peyton Siva pressuring the point guard from the outlet, the Cardinals are masters at applying full-court pressure. Not only is Siva elite as an on-ball defender, but the quickness of players such as Russ Smith helps to create turnovers.
That's why Louisville ranks second in the nation in steals per game at 10.8.
With their full-court prowess established, it's reasonable to believe that there is a drop-off once teams pass the mid-court line. The truth of the matter is, Louisville is equally as dominant in the half court.
The fact that they're holding opponents to a season slash line of .392/.316/.648 only scratches the surface.
Louisville is a disciplined team with phenomenal perimeter rotations. Whether that leads to Smith picking up a scorer on the dive or Siva pressing up on the pick-and-roll, Louisville can do it all.
Even without Kevin Ware.
Furthermore, the Cardinals have an elite interior presence in center Gorgui Dieng. Not only is Dieng an NBA prospect with elite interior athleticism, but he's superb at anticipating driving scorers.
Good luck finding a weakness.
Wichita State Shockers: Size and Power
The Wichita State Shockers have made an improbable run to the Final Four of the 2013 NCAA tournament. During that time, they've exploited the opposition by capitalizing on one specific advantage.
Wichita State has five players that stand at 6'8" or taller. That includes interior stars Carl Hall and Cleanthony Early, and 7'0" interior presence Ehimen Orukpe.
This is a primary reason that Wichita State is one of the nation's elite rebounding teams. It's also why Wichita State has held opponents to 62.3 points per contest.
It's also why they're averaging 72.8 points per contest, thus creating a positive-10.5 point differential.
When they're not pounding it down low to Hall and Early, they're capitalizing on the power of point guard Malcolm Armstead. Not only is Armstead a physical player, but a crafty ball-handler who knows how to penetrate off of the dribble.
Matched up against Louisville, Wichita State may have the perfect storm to pull out the upset.
Michigan Wolverines: Transition Offense
The Michigan Wolverines are led by Naismith Award finalist and Big Ten Player of the Year point guard Trey Burke. Not only can Burke orchestrate an offense with his facilitating, but he is an elite scorer with a variety of offensive forms of attack.
Just don't think for a second that the Wolverines are limited to Burke's contributions.
When out in transition, Michigan is one of the most dominant offensive teams in the nation. They have elite athletes, spot-up shooters and a big man who is powerful enough to bang down low but mobile enough to run and finish.
Where do you target Michigan to slow them down?
Alongside Burke in the backcourt is junior swingman Tim Hardaway Jr. At 6'6" and 205 pounds, Hardaway Jr. has the physical tools necessary to enter the paint and finish in traffic.
Hardaway Jr. is also a much-improved shooter, converting 39.2 percent from beyond the arc.
Furthermore, Nik Stauskas has finally reclaimed his elite sharpshooting form. After converting just two of his first 12 attempts from distance, Stauskas went 6-of-6 during the Elite Eight.
At 42.9 percent from three-point range, Michigan has a legitimately elite shooter to dish it out to—something Burke has taken full advantage of.
Furthermore, Glenn Robinson III has proven to be capable of playing the 4 in a small-ball offense. He can run the floor, finish in transition and thrives in creating turnovers.
With Mitch McGary—who is averaging 17.5 points and 11.5 rebounds during the NCAA tournament—the Wolverines officially have the complete package.
Syracuse Orange: The 2/3 Zone
Entering the 2013 NCAA tournament, there were few who believed the Syracuse Orange to be a viable title threat. Their offense had faltered in recent weeks and the Big East had figured out their defensive schematics.
Come March Madness, however, no one has been able to penetrate the vaunted 2/3 zone.
Syracuse has been marvelous on defense, holding opponents to 45.8 points per game. They limited Indiana to a season-low 50 points and dominated Marquette, holding them to just 39 points.
For a system that's often taught to sixth-grade basketball players, Syracuse has perfected it—the numbers don't lie about that.
Point guard Michael Carter-Williams is 6'5" and has unbelievable length for his position. This enables him to play the passing lanes and come up with an average of 2.7 steals per game.
Paired with Brandon Triche's activity and physicality, the Orange have an elite perimeter within 2/3.
Along the interior, the Orange lack a truly elite rim protector. Rakeem Christmas averages 1.8 blocks, which does offer a reason for encouragement, but their greatest strength is their versatility.
With James Southerland and Jerami Grant possessing the size and athleticism to hit the perimeter or collapse, the Orange are elite on D—no one has been able to prove otherwise.
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