Reaching the Final Four doesn’t take luck or talent or determination—it takes all of those factors and much, much more.
The four squads still dancing in April have already accomplished more than the 64 others that entered the NCAA tournament in March. Each should be proud of its tournament run, but none should be content. The national title game is just one game away.
Tournament paths converge in Atlanta this weekend with a showdown between No. 1 Louisville and No. 9 Wichita State to tip off Saturday’s action. No. 4 Michigan and No. 4 Syracuse will follow with what should be one of the most exciting games of the Big Dance.
Unpredictability has triumphed so far, but what fun would it be without a little prognostication? We’ll look ahead to each matchup and highlight the players most worth watching in Saturday’s action.
No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 9 Wichita State: Saturday, April 6 at 6:09 p.m. ET on CBS
Russ Smith (Louisville)
Louisville is arguably the most complete team in the nation, boasting an elite defense, strong frontcourt play and quality coaching. The Cardinals also have an incredible scorer in junior guard Russ Smith.
Smith has carried the Cardinals at the offensive end in the tournament, averaging a mind-blowing 26 points per game through four contests. He’s done it with efficiency as well, shooting better than 46 percent from the floor in each game.
Senior guard Peyton Siva and junior center Gorgui Dieng have been terrific complements to Smith’s electric play, but neither has had to put the offense on their shoulders. As long as Smith continues his impressive postseason play, Louisville shouldn’t have a problem skating past Wichita State in this one.
Malcolm Armstead (Wichita State)
Wichita State has earned a lot of respect with its performance in the Big Dance, but the clock is about to strike midnight for the Cinderella Shockers. If Malcolm Armstead and Cleanthony Early don’t post massive efforts at both ends of the floor, expect this to be a decisive Louisville victory.
Still, the West Region’s most outstanding player can’t be overlooked. Armstead has been terrific through the first five rounds, averaging 15.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.8 rebounds in four games.
The senior guard is the Shockers' unquestioned leader, and his ability to facilitate at the offensive end has kept them rolling. Wichita State hasn’t scored less than 70 points in any tournament contest, besting a couple of quality defensive squads along the way.
No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 4 Syracuse: Saturday, April 6 at 8:49 p.m. ET on CBS
Trey Burke (Michigan)
There’s no question who Michigan’s star has been in the Big Dance. Several players have turned in good efforts, but sophomore guard Trey Burke has stolen the show.
With his last-second trey to send the game to overtime against Kansas in the Sweet 16, Burke claimed his spot in March Madness history alongside countless others whose late-game heroics helped their team advance in the tournament.
Syracuse’s 2-3 zone will be a major talking point leading up to the late game on Saturday. The Orange have stifled everyone through the first five rounds, holding opponents to just 45.8 points per game. Jim Boeheim’s zone has been the biggest reason for that success.
If Michigan is to earn a spot in the title game, Burke has to have another big night behind the arc. He’s shooting 38.1 percent from three-point range this season and has an opportunity to light up the scoreboard against the Orange.
Michael Carter-Williams (Syracuse)
Besting the Wolverines on Saturday will have to be a group effort, but look for sophomore guard Michael Carter-Williams and junior C.J. Fair to stand out at the offensive end.
Syracuse’s two leading scorers have combined for 26.8 points per game in the tournament, and Carter-Williams was fantastic against No. 1 Indiana with a 24-point effort in the 61-50 victory.
The 6’6” guard matches up well with Michigan’s lengthy scorers, and he’ll also be a player to watch at the defensive end. With long arms and quick feet, Carter-Williams will play a big role in keeping Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Glenn Robinson III from getting too comfortable beyond the arc.
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