The Wichita State Shockers are the true party-crashers at this year’s Final Four. They would create a massive buzz in the college basketball world if they could upset Louisville on the betting lines.
Wichita State Shockers vs Louisville Cardinals
Odds: Louisville -10.5
Wichita State can win because…
It can gang-rebound and offset the advantage Gorgui Dieng gives to Louisville. It’s true that Dieng is the best big man on the floor in this game, a shot-blocking force who can also do a lot of damage on the glass. However, Dieng will be going up against a Wichita State team that throws itself toward the backboard. Malcolm Armstead, Cleanthony Early, Tekele Cotton, Ron Baker, and Carl Hall all gained at least four rebounds apiece last Saturday in the Shockers’ upset of second-seeded Ohio State. Wichita State came at Ohio State with a vigorous and dedicated effort that threw the Buckeyes off balance, knocking the Big Ten Tournament champions on their heels.
Let’s make this particular comparison: Ohio State had become a very formidable team late in the regular season after drifting through much of the campaign. Louisville looked like a similarly average team in the middle of February but then turned on the jets in March. Wichita State made Ohio State look bad, causing the Buckeyes to regress in a big-stage moment. The Shockers can certainly do the same thing to Louisville, because effort can make an opponent buckle in the face of pressure. Wichita State won’t win this game on offense, but it can definitely win this game on defense and on the glass. If Louisville’s guards and wings don’t hit perimeter shots, this contest could easily become a grinder in the low 60s that will enable Wichita State to remain very close for 40 minutes and steal the win at the very end.
Louisville can win because…
It has the two biggest difference makers on the floor. Russ Smith, a dynamic ballhandling guard and a maniacal perimeter defender, has been the best player of the NCAA tournament to date. Smith has scored in bunches, and he has given the Cardinals baskets precisely when opponents have tried to make a run at Louisville. Smith is a clutch player who is operating at the height of his powers and in full control of all his skills. Wichita State’s Malcolm Armstead comes close to Smith in terms of his ability to change a game, but Smith will own an advantage against him on Saturday evening.
The other difference maker for the Cardinals is Dieng, whose defense is exceptional and whose offense has come a very long way from where it was 12 months ago. When Louisville made the 2012 Final Four in New Orleans, Dieng was a defensive specialist. Now, the Cardinals’ prime pivot has developed a 16-foot jump shot and is no longer awkward within five feet of the basket. Dieng is able to go up in traffic and finish plays, something he hadn’t been able to do in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. All of these offensive improvements don’t even touch on Dieng’s skills as a defender. Dieng has a long wingspan, which enables him to provide helpside defense on opposing players who try to get to the rim on the dribble. If Wichita State can’t hit jump shots, it will have a very hard time scoring on Dieng near the basket.
Outlook & Betting Prediction:
This figures to be a closer game on the college basketball odds than a lot of experts think. Louisville is going to be hard to beat, but Wichita State has a very good chance to keep this contest competitive into the final minutes. The Shockers defend and rebound well, and that can make Louisville’s offense quite ordinary. The Cardinals will win the game, but Wichita State will cover the number and win some respect.
Pick: Wichita State +10.5