The most surprising thing about Wichita State’s run to the Final Four isn’t that they were able to overcome a 5-5 finish to the regular season after starting out the year 15-1.
The most surprising part is that the Shockers were talented enough to make that kind of a run early in the season.
Gregg Marshall lost all five starters off of his 2012 team. You know who else lost five starters from last season? Kentucky. Look what happened to them. There’s a difference between those two programs: Wichita State returned Carl Hall, added a Juco transfer in Cleanthony Early as well as Oregon transfer Malcolm Armstead, who sat out last season as a redshirt, so it’s not like this was a completely green group.
How many people would have guessed that Wichita State, and not Kentucky, would have been the team that made the Final Four after losing their starting five?
How they got here: The Shockers beat No. 8 Pitt by 18 before knocking off the No. 1 seed in the West Region, Gonzaga, with a thrilling, come-from-behind win in the round of 32. The Shockers followed that up with a blowout win over No. 13 La Salle before hanging against No. 2 Ohio State after nearly blowing a 20 point lead.
Odds to win the title: 12:1
Why they can win: The first thing the Shockers need to do is get past Louisville in the semifinals on Saturday, and that’s something that they’re set up fairly well to do. The three things you need to be able to do to beat Louisville are get to the offensive glass, cut down penetration in the half court and avoid turnovers against their press. WSU gets to the glass and they are a tough, physical defensive team. The problem? They struggle with turnovers. Not a good thing against the Cardinals.
Why they won’t win: They’re running into the wrong Louisville team at the wrong time. I’ve got a lot of respect for how good Wichita State is. They probably deserved a No. 9 seed, but I think it’s fair to say that they are a better team than a typical No. 9 seed. That said, Louisville’s playing the best basketball that anyone has played this season.
Key stat: Malcolm Armstead has a turnover rate of 21.4%. Fred Vanvleet has a turnover rate of 24.1%. As a team, Wichita State turns the ball over on 19.5% of their offensive possessions. Louisville’s guards will feast on them if they aren’t careful.
Game-changer: Cleathony Early. Armstead to the go-to guy in the clutch and Carl Hall is the workhorse, but Early is the most-talented player on the team and a guy capable of going for 25 or 30 points. WSU is going to need a big game out of him to compete with Louisville.
Prediction?: Wichita State goes out like Colorado State. They put up a good fight, but in the end, the Cardinals are just going to be too much.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.