Four enter. One will emerge victorious.
#1 Louisville vs. #9 Wichita State – 6:09 p.m.
It’s David vs. Goliath in Saturday night’s opener. Wichita State hasn’t been getting respect from anyone all tournament long, so why would they get it now? Everyone was talking about how Pittsburgh could make a long run and matched up well with Gonzaga, but no one ever thought we’d see Wichita State here. Surprisingly, they’ve been here before -- back in 1965. Wichita State actually had some good players back in the early ‘80s (old school NBA fans will remember the names Antonie Carr and Xavier McDaniel), but they couldn’t get back to the Final Four until now. Meanwhile, Rick Pitino’s Cardinals have been here back-to-back years. This time, however, they’ll only be content if they cut down the nets.
What to Watch for: How Wichita State deals with Louisville’s press
You knew this was coming. Louisville’s press frustrates the hell out of their opponents. It’s not the same type of press that you seem from VCU because the defensive pressure isn’t always so intense. It’s the kind of press that lulls you into sleep and strikes quickly. Wichita State is decent at not turning the ball over, but they can get loose at times, as was the case with 15 turnovers against Gonzaga. This defense is nothing you can practice for and nothing Wichita State has seen on its schedule this year. Duke did well this season not to turn the ball over and is a well-coached team, yet they completely fell apart against Louisville’s pressure. We’ll see how Wichita State does…
Player to Watch: Russ Smith
If you're a fan of playground basketball, then you're a fan of Smith. Smith's just having fun out there 95 percent of the time (he does something stupid five percent of the time and gets yelled at by Coach Rick Pitino) and it's a pleasure to watch. He's got the no-conscience scoring ability like a Jamal Crawford or J.R. Smith that gets fans out of their seats. He makes unorthodox body movements as he drives the lane that make it tough for defenders to not stay with him. (Just ask Duke’s Ryan Kelly who got into foul trouble last week because of it.) Wichita State does a good job on the defensive end, but they’ll have their work cut out for them against Smith.
Wichita State primarily uses six or seven players with other guys only getting a few minutes a game to fill the gaps. It’s truly a team effort, so it’s hard to find an unsung hero, but I’m going to elevate the profile of Malcolm Armstead for a second. While the return of Ron Baker has surely helped Wichita State’s run to the Final Four, it has been Armstead leading the charge. He’s scored 14 or more points in three of their four tournament games and he’s been hitting the boards extremely hard for a guy who’s only six-feet tall. He’ll need another good game if Wichita State is to have any chance on Saturday given that he’ll be the primary weapon against the Louisville pressure. Good luck to you, son.
The Vegas Line: Wichita State +10.5 over Louisville
Louisville’s going to win this game, but 10.5 is a lot of points for them to give up. The line definitely has a few points built in for the public perception of the #1 team in the country facing a #9 seed, but Wichita has proven they’re no joke with wins over Pittsburgh (who finished second in the Big East regular season), Gonzaga, La Salle, and Ohio State. Both teams play tight defense, so the likelihood of this game getting out of hand is not very good. There’s also no real statistical advantage favoring Louisville such as turnover or rebounding margin.
Final Score: Louisville 64 Wichita State 58