Final Four 2013: Keys to the Game for Each Underdog in Atlanta

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Final Four 2013: Keys to the Game for Each Underdog in Atlanta
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There have been countless upsets in the 2013 NCAA tournament.

Florida Gulf Coast was the first No. 15 seed to make it to the Sweet 16. Wichita State is the first No. 9 seed to make it to the Final Four since tournament expansion in 1985.

So, calling a top seed a "sure thing" this late in the tournament is ignoring what has happened thus far. 

Wichita State will have its hands full against No. 1 seed Louisville on Saturday. So will Syracuse against red-hot Michigan. Then again, you can't count either underdog out.

Here's a look at the keys to the game for each underdog in Saturday's Final Four clashes.

All stats via ESPN.com and TeamRankings.com.


Wichita State (9) vs. Louisville (1)

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Cleanthony Early will be important for Wichita State on offense and on the glass.

Keys to the Game for Wichita State: Defense, Rebounding, Find Ways to Score, Avoid Turnovers

As you can see, it's going to take a lot for Wichita State to upset the No. 1 overall seed in the 2013 NCAA tournament.

That doesn't mean it can't be done, though.

Wichita State has an advantage on the glass over Louisville, first and foremost. The Shockers rank seventh in the nation in total rebounding percentage, led by forwards Carl Hall and Cleanthony Early. That includes ranking ninth in defensive rebounding rate. That's important given Louisville ranks 11th in offensive rebounding rate.

The Shockers' defense also has to be respected at this point. They've held opponents to a combined 34 percent shooting in the NCAA tournament. That includes holding Gonzaga to 36 percent shooting and Ohio State to 31 percent shooting. It doesn't matter that the Shockers come from the Missouri Valley Conference—this team knows how to play defense.

Another thing: Wichita State has been very efficient offensively in the NCAA tournament. The Shockers either shoot well or find a way to get to the free-throw line. Their offensive efficiency over their last three games would rank 33rd in the nation over the course of the 2012-13 campaign.

Last but certainly not least, Wichita State has to take care of the ball. The Shockers rank 140th in the nation in turnover rate, but they've been much better in that area lately. Louisville ranks second in opponents' turnover rate.

It's easy to hand this game over to Louisville, but there's a reason Wichita State got this far. This is not a fluke of a team. After all, Kenpom.com rates the club 19th in the nation.

 

Syracuse (4) vs. Michigan (4)

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Keys to the Game for Syracuse: Defense, Crash the Glass 

Let's be real: Syracuse isn't going to win a shootout with Michigan. That's a good way for the Orange to get blown out of the building.

But Syracuse does have a clear advantage on the defensive side of the ball. The Orange have held opponents to a combined 29 percent from the floor in the NCAA tournament. They held Indiana to 50 points on 33 percent shooting and Marquette to 39 points on 23 percent shooting.

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Syracuse also ranks 23rd in the nation in opponents' turnover percentage. Syracuse's opponents have turned the ball over on over 25 percent of their possessions in the last three contests.

Star point guard Michael Carter-Williams, the East Regional's most outstanding player, is a big part of that. The sophomore ranked sixth in the nation in steals per game during the regular season. The back and forth between Carter-Williams and Michigan's Trey Burke is going to be outstanding to watch.

Also, a big part of Syracuse's offense is actually on the glass. The Orange rank 123rd in field-goal percentage this season, but they rank 12th in offensive rebounding rate. Not coincidentally, they also rank 13th in extra scoring chances per game.

While Michigan ranks 78th in defensive rebounding percentage this season, the emergence of 6'10", 250-pound freshman forward Mitch McGary has been huge for the Wolverines. Their defensive rebounding percentage over their last three games would rank sixth in the nation over the course of the 2012-13 campaign.

McGary is averaging 17.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, one block and 2.8 steals in four NCAA tournament games this year.

 

Don't forget to print out your bracket and follow along with the live bracketFollow all the exciting NCAA tournament action with March Madness Live.


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