Final Four 2013: Latest Predictions and Top Players to Watch

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Final Four 2013: Latest Predictions and Top Players to Watch
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The Final Four is set to tip off in just five days.

After what has felt like a whirlwind over the past few weeks, 64 teams have been weeded out, leaving only four survivors. While these might not have been the four best teams in the country coming into the NCAA tournament, there's no debating their deserving of a place at the table now.

With what should be a great Final Four starting on Saturday, here are predictions for each of the semifinal games, along with the star players who should grab your attention.

 

Prediction

Louisville Cardinals vs. Wichita State Shockers

As great a story as Wichita State is, it's incredibly difficult seeing the Shockers being able to make it to the national title game.

Louisville is looking like the best team in the tournament. There's no doubt the Cardinals have the talent to bring home their third national championship. Now with the injury to Kevin Ware, there's the motivation and inspiration that makes them almost unbeatable.

The Shockers have relied a lot on rebounding. They've gotten this far largely in part to their work on the glass. Against the Cardinals, though, Wichita State will struggle to have that advantage on the boards.

The Cardinals are the seventh-best rebounding team in the country, and the Shockers will struggle to match up with Gorgui Dieng.

If this game comes down to guard play, you can't look past Louisville. Peyton Siva and Russ Smith make up one of the best guard combos in the country. Smith is the scorer, while Siva is the floor general. It has to worry Gregg Marshall that Siva found his scoring touch in the Elite Eight as well.

There's just too much in this Cardinals team to see it losing in the Final Four. Louisville will overwhelm the Shockers early and always manage to keep them out of striking distance.

Louisville 80, Wichita State 65

 

Michigan Wolverines vs. Syracuse Orange

This is the much more intriguing matchup of the two semifinal games.

In Syracuse, you have a team that has mastered the 2-3 zone and just smothered opposing teams. It doesn't matter whom you're playing. Any time you can hold a Division I team to 39 points, as the Orange did in the Sweet 16, you've done something special.

The Wolverines, on the other hand, are one of the better shooting teams in the country. In Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas, Michigan has three guys adept at knocking down the three-pointer. Glenn Robinson and Mitch McGary bring the much-needed presence inside.

As the saying goes, defense wins championships. That will hold true in this one.

Syracuse is holding opponents to just 36.8 percent shooting. With Michael Carter-Williams, the Orange have a premier perimeter defender who can get out on the Wolverines' outside shooters.

Michigan is going to dig itself into a hole with poor shot selection. Although there are question marks regarding Syracuse's offense, the team will have enough to get by. This one won't be pretty to watch.

Syracuse 73, Michigan 67

 

Players to Watch

Russ Smith, Louisville Cardinals

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There hasn't been a better player in the tournament than Smith. As good as he was during the regular season, he's managed to find a different level in the Big Dance. The junior guard has been fantastic in each of Louisville's four tournament wins, scoring 104 points on 54.1 percent shooting.

At times, Smith has been unguardable, simply running right at defenders and pulling off a crazy layup.

Smith's performance has been in stark contrast to that of Siva. Before the Sweet 16 win against Duke, Siva had struggled from the field and had foul trouble as well. He found his game against the Blue Devils, scoring 16 points and dishing out four assists.

As the facilitator, Siva will be ceding the majority of the offense to Smith. If he continues to pour in 20-plus points, the Cardinals will be able to ride Smith all the way to a national title.

 

Trey Burke, Michigan Wolverines

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Inefficiency has been the biggest issue for Burke this postseason. It's not as if he's not scoring enough, as he's registered 62 points. The problem is that those 62 points have come on 34.9 percent shooting. That's over 100 points below Burke's season average (46.4 percent).

Burke has the confidence to knock down just about any shot, as evidenced by his 30-foot game-tying three-pointer against the Kansas Jayhawks. It's the kind of trait you'd expect of any star player. When that star player isn't hitting his shots, that can be a problem.

There's no question Burke is an immensely talented player and one of the best in the country. He hasn't been playing like that, though, throughout the tournament. It's one thing to score 23 points, but it's much different to score 23 points when taking 23 shots.

The Wolverines won't be able to survive Syracuse's zone defense if Burke starts slowly once again.

 

Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse Orange

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One of the players tasked with shutting down Burke and the other Michigan perimeter players is Carter-Williams. Few are as good defensively as Carter-Williams.

A zone defense can't be effective if you don't have athletes like MCW who can quickly close down the gaps a zone will leave. When Syracuse's 2-3 zone is as good as it was against the Indiana Hoosiers and Marquette Golden Eagles, it's hard seeing anyone be able to beat them.

Jim Boeheim shouldn't be asking Carter-Williams to take a ton of shots. He's only a 39.7 percent shooter despite averaging 12.1 points a game.

MCW can go scoreless, but if he hassles Burke, Hardaway and Stauskas, it will be a job well done. Michigan is making 48.5 percent of its shots as a team. The Wolverines rely a lot on shooting efficiently. Cutting that off is vital for the Orange.

 

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