Cuse, Wolves Offer Contrasting Styles
ATLANTA – Syracuse is brimming with confidence, largely because of its suffocating style when the other team has the ball.
Next up, a guy who knows a thing or two about breaking down opposing defenses.
Trey Burke, meet the Orange Crush.
The Final Four semifinal between Syracuse and Burke’s Michigan team will present a clear contrast in styles tonight – the Orange, a veteran group that is perfectly content to settle into their octopus-like zone, vs. the brash young Wolverines, who love to run, run, run and have been compared to those Fab Five squads of the early 1990s.
Clearly taking to heart the adage that offense wins fans but defense wins championships, Syracuse sounded like a team that fully expects to be playing in the title game at the Georgia Dome.
“It’s going to take them a while to adjust to the zone,” junior guard Brandon Triche said Friday, a day when all four teams got a chance to practice in the cavernous, 70,000-seat stadium that is normally home of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons.
The Michigan players quickly got wind of the comments coming from Syracuse’s media session.
“It sounds like cockiness,” said guard Tim Hardaway Jr., son of the former NBA star. “But it’s not going to come down to just talent or who has the biggest players. It’s going to come down to heart and passion.”
Having a player such as Burke doesn’t hurt, either.
The Associated Press player of the year already came up huge in the regionals, leading the Wolverine back from a 14-point deficit against Kansas with less than 7 minutes remaining. He knocked down a long 3-pointer at the end of regulation to tie the game, then finished off the upset of the top-seeded Jayhawks in overtime.
But Burke has never played against a defense quite like this.
“We’ve just got to try to find different ways to attack the zone,” the sophomore guard said. “They play a really good 2-3. It’s tough. We’ve got to make sure we knock down uncontested 3s.”
The zone is usually viewed as more of a passive defense.
Not the way Syracuse plays it.
The Orange has surrendered a paltry 45.75 points per game, holding Montana (34), top-seeded Indiana (50) and Marquette (39) to their lowest scoring totals of the season. Overall, Syracuse’s four tournament opponents have combined to shoot just 28.9 percent from field (61 of 211) and 15.4 percent from 3-point range (14 of 91).
Michigan (30-7) prefers to get in the open court as much as possible, a style that is even more advantageous against a team such as Syracuse, which has a size advantage at almost every position.
The Wolverines are averaging 75.5 points a game on the season, even more (78.8) in their four NCAA games. Last weekend, after stunning Kansas, they romped past one of the nation’s best defensive teams, beating Florida 79-59 in the regional final.
Ware makes big, bad Louisville the people’s choice
ATLANTA (AP) – Louisville already had the bigger names, the better team and some unfinished business after coming up short in last year’s Final Four.
All Wichita State had was the cute-and-cuddly underdog angle. Now the Shockers don’t even have that.
Kevin Ware is everybody’s favorite player since he broke his leg in gruesome fashion last weekend yet summoned the strength to encourage his teammates, and having him at the Final Four has given the top-seeded Cardinals (33-5) added motivation to claim the title that eluded them last year.
“We really want it, especially since we’re back here for a second year,” Louisville forward Wayne Blackshear said Friday. “With Kevin going down, especially the way he did, it’s just making us play harder.”
Louisville plays Wichita State (30-8) in the first national semifinal Saturday night. The Cardinals are 10-point favorites.
Wichita State has one player (Carl Hall) who salvaged his career after working in a light bulb factory and two more (Ron Baker and Malcolm Armstead) who paid their way to come to school and started on the team as walk-ons. Its coach has invited fans into the locker room after big wins. Yes, this is a school with all the makings of a team the entire country could get behind.
Problem is, in this case, Louisville and Ware are already tugging on America’s heart strings.
“I’m just glad to know Kevin Ware now even more because he’s probably the most famous person I know,” Peyton Siva cracked. “You know, when you have Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama call you, it’s pretty good to say you know that person.”
This is the first Final Four appearance for Wichita State since 1965, but the ninth-seeded Shockers are no fluke. They’re big, they’re athletic, they rebound and they can shoot 3s better than just about anyone. Just ask Pittsburgh, a first-round victim of the hot-shooting Shockers. Or No. 1-seeded Gonzaga, which was out before the first weekend of the tournament was over thanks to Wichita State.
Or Ohio State, a fashionable pick for a third straight Final Four until the Shockers sent them packing.
(Pitino, by the way, swears he picked Wichita State to get to the Final Four.)
“Their whole team is tough. It’s not just one guy,” Siva said. “Macolm Armstead, of course, makes them go. But on any given night, anybody on the team can have a big night. It’s up to us to play collective defense, hit the glass and continue to play how we’ve been playing.”
Armstead is averaging almost 16 points during the tournament, one of four Shockers in double figures. Tekele Cotton is 5 of 10 from 3-point range, while Ron Baker is 6 of 15.