Although any team remaining in the NCAA tournament's Final Four obviously has a shot to win it all, and there is no question that the Louisville Cardinals are the favorite.
Not only are they the lone No. 1 seed remaining, but they will take on a Cinderella team in the form of No. 9 Wichita State for a chance to play for the title.
The Shockers have used great defense and opportune scoring to advance to this point, so they won't be an easy out by any stretch of the imagination. With that said, Louisville has an extremely well-rounded roster and the tools necessary to diffuse Wichita State. In order to do that, though, there are a few players who must rise to the occasion.
Here are three stars who will need to step up this weekend in order for the Cardinals to keep their title hopes alive.
While 6'11" center Gorgui Dieng may not be Louisville's biggest offensive threat, he figures to cause major issues for the Shockers.
Dieng led the Cardinals in rebounding, with 9.5 boards per game, and blocks, with 2.5 swats per contest during the regular season. He also was second on the team in scoring with a 10.2 points per game average, but his true value against Wichita State will be on the defensive end.
Arguably, the Shockers' biggest asset is their ability to dominate the glass and grab both offensive and defensive rebounds. Forwards Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall are especially proficient in that regard, but neither of them can measure up to Dieng physically. The Louisville big man towers over both of them and should control the boards, provided he stays out of foul trouble.
Dieng will also make it tough for the Shockers to score inside. Wichita State is definitely capable of scoring from the perimeter, but it will be much tougher to get in an offensive rhythm if Dieng denies easy buckets. Even if Dieng doesn't block a lot of shots, he figures to alter many of them, which is equally effective.
As long as Dieng can stay on the floor, the Cardinals should be golden.
Sophomore forward Chane Behanan is often overlooked when perusing the Louisville roster due to stars like Dieng and Russ Smith, but he is an extremely important contributor.
Behanan burst onto the scene last year as a freshman and he has continued to improve. With averages of 9.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game during the regular season, Behanan was easily the Cardinals' No. 2 big over the course of the year.
Behanan is only 6'6", but he packs 250 lbs. onto the frame, so he has a body type that can absorb a lot of punishment. Early and Hall will try to inflict it upon him, but Behanan will stand his ground on the defensive end and exert his will offensively as well. Behanan is the type of role player that every winning team needs in order to achieve greatness.
Even though Behanan isn't the type of guy who is going to explode for 25 points in a game, he is a very consistent contributor. If Dieng isn't at his best against the Shockers, Behanan will have to raise his game even higher. Whatever the case, Behanan is the type of player who should give Wichita State trouble.
Russ Smith is the Louisville backcourt player who is mentioned most often in terms of making a big-time impact, but it can be argued that Peyton Siva is equally as important. The senior point guard has been a huge part of the program for a long time and is truly the glue that holds everything together.
Siva averaged a shade under 10 points per game during the regular season and led the team with 5.8 assists per game as well, so he has a hand in much of Louisville's offense.
In addition to that, Siva is a demon on the defensive end—he led the team with 2.2 steals per contest. Wichita State's backcourt is weak in comparison to its frontcourt, and although Malcolm Armstead has talent, he may have trouble against a high-energy defender like Siva. In addition to all of that, Siva is the team's best free-throw shooter at 86 percent.
If things are within reach for Wichita State down the stretch, Siva's prowess at the stripe could be the difference between Louisville winning and losing. Siva contributes across so many categories that it is impossible for him not to make an impact on the game. If he impacts the contest positively, then Louisville will be in great shape.
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