In one of the most improbable Final Four runs in NCAA history, the Wichita State Shockers have made it to the stage of the legendary. The Shockers have overcome the likes of No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 Ohio State, all the while maintaining their underdog identity.
In order to upset the No. 1 Louisville Cardinals and reach the national championship game, Malcolm Armstead must put on the performance of a lifetime.
Armstead has been the face of this Wichita State team, providing a scoring punch and veteran prowess. With that being said, the 6'0" senior has been the furthest thing from consistent during the Shockers' run to the Final Four.
Thus far in the NCAA tournament, Armstead is shooting 35.6 percent from the floor.
As great as he's been on his best nights, Armstead has been equally as poor on his worst.
For instance, Armstead led a round of 64 win over Pittsburgh by scoring 22 points and dishing out five assists on 6-of-14 shooting. During the Shockers' round of 32 upset of Gonzaga, however, he shot just 2-of-9 from the field.
That trend continued during the later rounds.
During the Sweet 16, Armstead converted 7-of-15 field goals en route to 18 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals. During the Elite Eight, Armstead posted 14 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals.
He also shot 6-of-21 from the field, coughed up three turnovers and committed four personal fouls—a performance that would lead to a certain loss against Louisville.
Countering Elite Guard Play
Wichita State has faced teams with quality guard play thus far. They've dealt with players such as Aaron Craft, Tray Woodall, Kevin Pangos and Ramon Galloway.
With that being said, the Shockers haven't faced a duo like Peyton Siva and Russ Smith all season.
Siva is a defensive master, pressuring the ball from the outlet pass to the basket. Regardless of whom he defends, Siva is almost certain to force turnovers and take them out of their rhythm.
That someone will be Malcolm Armstead during the Final Four.
As for the offensive end of the floor, Russ Smith has become a frontrunner for the NCAA tournament's Most Outstanding Player award. He's averaging 26.0 points on 54.1 percent shooting thus far.
To put it simply, Armstead will need to lead an extraordinary defensive performance when tasked with facing Smith—an inevitability that Armstead's talent is prepared for.
Louisville will not be fazed by defensive schematics or physicality on defense. In fact, the Cardinals play as physical a style of basketball as you'll ever witness in this modern era.
The question is simple—can Armstead counter Louisville's elite guard play with offensive production and defensive prowess? If Wichita State plans on winning, they'll need him to.
As previously alluded to, Louisville point guard Peyton Siva is one of the best defenders in the nation. Although some might state that Malcolm Armstead has already dealt with an elite defender in Aaron Craft, there's one thing worth pointing out.
Craft forced Armstead to shoot 6-of-21 from the field, commit three turnovers and pick up four fouls.
One could make the case that Craft is the superior individual defender to Siva, but in this instance, it's neither here nor there. The fact of the matter is, Louisville plays team defense at an elite level.
The advantage they hold over Ohio State is that their back line is as strong as their perimeter.
Even if Armstead is to penetrate and get past Siva, he'll be tasked with overcoming shot blocking guru Gorgui Dieng. Not only is Dieng an explosive leaper who can alter shots, but he's a master at anticipating the attempts of driving scorers.
To put it simply, very few field goals go over or past Dieng's 7'6" wingspan.
With this in mind, it's imperative that Armstead understands his individual limitations. The Cardinals will key in on any player they find to be a threat, which suggests that they will force the ball out of Armstead's hands.
It may not be ideal, but Armstead's dream performance may come by way of knowing when to give the ball up—a sacrifice he must make.