College basketball, like all sports, is a numbers game.
Look no further than Butler head coach Brad Stevens' decision to hire a stat guru (via Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel in a must-read piece) to reaffirm an idea that is sweeping sports at all levels right now.
The Final Four field is a group of teams that has defied the odds and will battle it out in Atlanta for the NCAA title. In making it through the various rounds of the 2013 Big Dance, Louisville, Wichita State, Michigan and Syracuse all put up impressive numbers that we did not expect.
With just three games left in the 2012-13 college basketball season, a closer look at the numbers might be just what you need to place one final wager on the tournament field.
No. 1 Louisville: 80.8
Louisville's stat is points per game, and at 80.8, the Cardinals lead the tournament field in that category. At the forefront of that effort is standout guard Russ Smith, who is averaging 26 points per game through four contests and has been unstoppable in the open court.
Smith may be the best overall scorer for this team, but you don't score 80-plus points per game without other guys stepping up.
Future NBA center Gorgui Dieng has been great so far in March, including a 14-point performance against Duke in the Elite Eight. And of course, all Louisville fanatics know about Peyton Siva and how his ability to come alive at any moment will be a dangerous thing for Wichita State to contend with in the Final Four.
The Cards also have Wayne Blackshear, Montrezl Harrell and Luke Hancock who all contribute to the high point total. Kevin Ware was starting to come alive before his horrific injury too.
If the Shockers want to have a chance against Louisville on Saturday, slowing down this scoring attack will be priority No. 1.
While Louisville has proven itself as a halfcourt team when necessary, the Cardinals really get going off turnovers and long rebounds that turn into quick outlet passes. To curb the steal is to curb the point, so to speak, and Wichita State could be in trouble if it tries to match up with Louisville's run-and-gun pace on Saturday.
No. 9 Wichita State: 43.2
The Shockers have been quite dominant on the glass so far in the 2013 tournament, and 43.2 is the number of rebounds per game this team has pulled in during March Madness.
Carl Hall commands that presence for the Shockers, but he'll have his hands full against a talented, athletic front line that includes Dieng, Harrell and Chane Behanan.
Hybrid forward Cleanthony Early also hits the glass hard (5.1 per game this season), and Wichita State's talented guard combination of Malcolm Armstead and Fred Van Vleet also contribute by going down in the trees and coming out with rebounds.
Against Louisville, limiting the Cardinals to one shot will be huge.
Rick Pitino's team thrives off second-chance opportunities, in large part because Dieng and Harrell are workhorses in the middle. If Wichita State can be active on the offensive glass too (51 offensive boards in four games), then it can curb the fast-break opportunities Louisville thrives on.
No. 4 Michigan: 17.5 and 11.5
That would be the tournament line of one Mitch McGary, Michigan's freshman forward who has completely dominated his first four tournament games.
John Beilein got it right when he inserted McGary into the starting lineup against South Dakota State.
After starting just two games all season (against Michigan State and Illinois), Beilein made the surprise move to make McGary his starting center/post for the 2013 tournament. It's now a shrewd move that has Michigan dancing to the Final Four, in large part because McGary gives the big three of Trey Burke, Glenn Robinson III and Tim Hardaway Jr. a scoring break in the lineup.
The big question for Syracuse on Saturday is simple: How do you slow down McGary?
In a normal circumstance, odds on the 2-3 zone being effective wouldn't be good. McGary is a matchup nightmare for opposing forwards because he's tough to block out and doesn't quit on the offensive glass, two things that could expose Syracuse's zone for the first time all tournament.
However, the Orange are firing on all cylinders when it comes to defense. That includes on the glass, where they've been somewhat effective at limiting second shots and forcing teams to chuck up shots from the outside (see next section).
That being said, McGary is the first post that Syracuse will see in this tournament who can take over the game (and yes, that includes Cody Zeller). Burke's heroics might have saved Michigan against Kansas, but McGary's overtime play was the difference. His play in general has been the difference for a team that was the No. 5 seed in the Big Ten tournament—a fleeting memory after the whirlwind of March.
No. 4 Syracuse: 17.2
There's plenty of numbers to throw out when it comes to this Syracuse team, particularly on defense.
Jim Boeheim's Orange have made short work of each of their four opponents, winning its latest two games against top seeds (Marquette and Indiana) by at least 11 points. The number that should mean the most to Orange fans on Saturday, however, is 17.2.
That is Syracuse's opponents' three-point percentage in the tournament so far.
Not one of Syracuse's four opponents has made more than four three-point field goals, and Marquette made just three. Couple that with the documented length of perimeter-watchers James Southerland, Michael Carter-Williams and C.J. Fair, and it's become next to impossible to shoot from the outside against Syracuse without a hand (or two) in your face.
The Wolverines have been lights-out so far from outside, highlighted by all three of their NBA-bound prospects. Shooting 40.2 percent from the outside, Michigan's three-point marksmen are confident. If Syracuse moves on to the championship game, it will have to keep Michigan at bay from the outside.
Which schools go to the national championship game?
A 17 percent shooting night is probably unrealistic for Syracuse to get to. Burke, Robinson III and Hardaway Jr. all contribute from deep. Nik Stauskas is fresh off a six three-pointer performance against Florida, and reserve guard Spike Albrecht can shoot it too.
However, Syracuse has proven that threes are not an option for opposing teams. The Orange are comfortable giving up the free-throw line and baseline areas to the right shooters, but they will simply not allow noted snipers to get going from the outside.
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