The Final Four is finally here and who could have predicted the Missouri Valley Conference runner-up, Wichita State, would be in this position?
The Wichita State Shockers have a big task in front of them on Saturday as they take on the overall No. 1 seed Louisville Cardinals. Louisville has been rolling in the NCAA tournament and is in contention to win its first national title since 1986.
The Cardinals have been the best team in college basketball, but will the Shockers have it within themselves to pull off another upset in Atlanta on Saturday?
Wichita State was predicted by most to lose in their second-round game against Big East foe Pittsburgh. The Shockers ended up routing the Panthers 73-55 and went on to upset Gonzaga 76-70 in their third-round game two days later. They then cruised through La Salle in the Sweet 16, 72-58, and pulled off the big win over Ohio State 70-66 in the Elite Eight to advance to their first Final Four since 1965 last Saturday.
Many people were not sure what type of damage this team was capable of accomplishing when the brackets were announced. The Missouri Valley Conference doesn’t always receive the respect it deserves because of its status as a mid-major, but Wichita State was in the national spotlight for a majority of the regular season.
The Shockers were a talented group heading into the tournament and have continued to prove to the nation why they can compete with the best in college basketball.
As a team, Wichita State has looked solid on the offensive end in the tournament. It is shooting 42.7 percent from the field and has been impressive from the foul line by shooting 76.9 percent. Its shots have been dropping in the paint and from beyond the arc as well. The Shockers have a three-point percentage of 36.3 in tournament play.
Their best game from beyond the arc was in their third-round game against Gonzaga when they went 14-of-28.
Oregon transfer Malcolm Armstead, along with Cleanthony Early, have been the catalysts for this Wichita State squad. Armstead has been a dangerous shooter in the tournament and will be key in the Shockers making a run at Louisville. In the tournament, he has averaged 15.5 points per game and has shot 90.0 percent from the charity stripe. Early has averaged 14.3 points per game in the tournament and has recorded seven rebounds in each of the Shockers' tournament games as well.
If Wichita State has any chance of winning on Saturday, it needs to continue to shoot consistently and play well defensively. Armstead is going to need to knock his shots down because it will be difficult for his team to get second-chance opportunities on the offensive boards with a player such as Gorgui Dieng battling for the ball.
The Shockers are going to have to contain Dieng on the defensive end as well. Dieng presented problems down low against Oregon and Duke last weekend by averaging 12.0 points in those two games. He is physical on the boards and scores points in the paint.
Along with Dieng’s presence on the offensive end is a lethal scorer in junior guard Russ Smith. Smith is dangerous when he drives the lane and is the main reason why the Cardinals have been winning in blowout fashion. In the tournament, Smith has averaged 26.0 points per game and is shooting over 50 percent from the field.
Wichita State has to shut Smith down to some extent and put a lot of pressure on Louisville defensively to prevent it from getting good looks at the basket.
It’s going to be an uphill battle for Wichita State, but if it can keep it close until there is five minutes remaining in the second half, it has a chance to pull off the upset.