Louisville vs. Wichita State: Which Team Has the Edge in Every Matchup?
Wichita State takes on Louisville Saturday evening in the Final Four equivalent of David versus Goliath. Although Rick Pitino's team is a heavy favorite, there's always room for surprises at this stage of the college basketball season.
The Cardinals have won 14 consecutive games and captured the Big East tournament title en route to earning the top overall seed in the NCAA tourney. Louisville is unquestionably the favorite to claim a national championship in Atlanta.
Wichita State, on the other hand, will be trying to prolong its unexpected postseason run. The Shockers' four tournament wins feature stunning upsets of Gonzaga and Ohio State.
As the Shockers and Cardinals prepare to collide on the game's greatest stage, it's time to look at how these teams stack up against each other. Here's a rundown of key matchups across the board.
Few guard tandems in the country compare to the Cardinals' dynamic duo of Russ Smith and Peyton Siva.
This is the second straight year they led Louisville into the Final Four.
Loaded with talent and experience, the stars complement each other quite well.
Smith is a sensational scoring threat, averaging 26 points per game in the tournament. The junior dropped 31 against Oregon in the Sweet 16 and is clearly playing with more confidence than at any time in his career.
Siva, a two-time Big East tourney MVP, clamps down on opponents defensively and can put up points in bunches when called upon. He had 16 points and four assists in the Elite Eight win over Duke.
Sophomore Wayne Blackshear bolsters the backcourt with a blend of size and outside shooting ability. The 6'5" swingman is averaging fewer than seven points per game in the tournament, but he adds length to Louisville's defensive efforts on the perimeter.
The Shockers' success is based on strong post play and rebounding, but don't overlook a solid stable of guards. Senior Malcolm Armstead spearheads a predominantly young unit.
He averaged just 11 points per game in the regular season, but he's been even better in the tournament. Armstead scored 22 points against Pittsburgh in the round of 64 and accumulated 32 points in the team's past two victories over La Salle and Ohio State.
He is an excellent slasher who displays patience along the perimeter. Armstead often concentrates on setting up teammates before looking for his shot.
Freshman Ron Baker has been Wichita State's second-best guard in the postseason. He drilled four three-pointers against top-seeded Gonzaga in the round of 32 and connected on all nine of his free-throw attempts against Ohio State.
Sophomore Tekele Cotton could be an X-factor among this group. He averages about seven points per game and will be relied on for defensive help against Louisville's excellent guards.
Cotton had five steals against Pittsburgh.
Gorgui Dieng anchors the Cardinals' interior. The 6'11" junior is a defensive stalwart who continues to sharpen his offensive skills.
Dieng rejected four shots against both Duke and Oregon, pulling down 20 rebounds in the victories. He is also averaging 11 points per game in the tournament, shooting 20-of-24 from the field through four contests.
Chane Behanan was one of the scrappiest players in the Big East this season. The 6'6" sophomore provides physical defense in the post and routinely finds a way to fill the stat sheet.
He was highly effective against Duke, with eight points, eight rebounds, three steals and a block in the Elite Eight. Behanan is shooting better than 50 percent from the field for the season and is a tremendous finisher inside when teammates find him near the rim.
Cleanthony Early is among the biggest head-turners of this tournament. Wichita State's do-it-all forward may be an intriguing NBA prospect down the line.
The 6'8" junior is consistent in the paint, pulling down seven rebounds in each tournament game, and can step back and bury shots from beyond the arc.
He hit four three-pointers against Gonzaga and added two during Saturday's win over Ohio State. Early's athleticism and shooting range present matchup issues for Pitino.
Carl Hall is an absolute intimidator inside and provides the Shockers with a true leader. He swatted six shots against the Buckeyes, giving him 12 blocks in the past three games.
The 6'8" senior gives up a few inches to Dieng, but he's a relentless force who refuses to be outworked on defense. If Hall can improve on his tourney scoring average of 11 points per game, the Shockers' offense becomes explosive enough to challenge the Cardinals.
Edge: Wichita State
The Cardinals rarely extend beyond a short rotation, so don't expect Louisville's reserves to take on an expanded role in this matchup unless the game gets out of hand.
Still, Pitino does have a few key contributors off the bench.
George Mason transfer Luke Hancock is a heady player who gives the Cardinals a lift with his shooting touch (he makes 37 percent of his three-point attempts). The 6'6" swingman is an excellent defensive substitute capable of matching up against opposing forwards and guards alike.
Freshman Montrezl Harrell is an intriguing post prospect. The 6'8" forward is largely unpolished but provides Louisville with crucial size inside.
Expect Pitino to call upon Harrell more often against a stout Wichita State frontcourt.
The loss of sophomore guard Kevin Ware to a horrific leg injury hurts the Cardinals' backcourt depth.
Wichita State's reserves have been huge in March, but they've played less the deeper the Shockers have gone in the tournament. Four starters played more than 30 minutes against Ohio State, when the Shockers opted for a top-heavy attack.
Senior guard Demetric Williams will also knock down a long-distance shot when given an opportunity.
Coach Gregg Marshall mixes up his lineup in unpredictable fashion. Depending on the opponent, a variety of Shockers see substantial minutes.
The Cardinals rank 49th in the nation in rebounds per game. Louisville intimidates teams with a persistent press defense that routinely forces an array of ill-advised shots, creating opportunities to pull down boards.
The team overcame a suspected disadvantage inside against Duke. Louisville outrebounded the Blue Devils 35-26 and bullied Coach K's squad inside throughout a decisive second half.
Opponents have a difficult time contending with Cardinals center Gorgui Dieng on the glass. He secures nearly 10 rebounds per game. Power forward Chane Behanan is a battler in the paint, and reserve forward Montrezl Harrell gives Louisville another interior specimen for Wichita State to compete with down low.
Guard Russ Smith is only 6'1", but he is fearless near the rim and refuses to let his small stature deter him from rising up among the trees. Smith averages nearly four rebounds per game.
Rebounding effort is the Shockers' bread and butter. Wichita State ranks 27th nationally in the category and is pounding opponents on the boards in the postseason.
The team has 44 offensive rebounds during the tournament, gaining valuable second-chance opportunities and prolonging possessions. The Shockers dismantled La Salle in the Sweet 16, outrebounding the Explorers 44-23 in a convincing victory.
Despite a win against Gonzaga, a red flag was raised during the game, as Wichita State surrendered 20 offensive rebounds to the Bulldogs.
That simply can't happen against Louisville. Carl Hall and Cleanthony Early must be ready for a dogfight against a larger Cardinals lineup on Saturday.