Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
With the possible exception of Wichita State, there are no earth shattering secrets to reveal about the four teams remaining in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. This Final Four comes packaged with a little bit of everything: the odds-on favorite to win the whole thing (Louisville); a 900-win coach with a legendary zone defense at his disposal (Syracuse); a fifth-place Big Ten team catching fire at just the right time (Michigan); and the Shockers, the barely name-recognizable MVC power whose four-win run has not been given its proper due. It is a fun mix that sets up any number of possible outcomes in Atlanta this weekend. Will Louisville continue its robotic obliteration in the national semifinal and final rounds? Will Wichita State “shock” (better to get that pun out of the way sooner than later) the college basketball world? Can Michigan’s youth handle the national spotlight? Or will Syracuse’s zone throw two more offenses into utter dysfunction?
All of these questions are worth thinking about, but the answers are never as clear as what’s on the surface. Louisville, at the moment, looks like the best team in the country; the Shockers look overmatched. But if you think even for a second analyzing Final Four match-ups is as simple as the above A > B comparison, think again: These games are inherently unpredictable. That’s what makes them fun – what makes this entire Tournament comprise the most entertaining three-week period in American sports.
By now you’re well-schooled on each of the remaining participants, but I’m going to try and take you deeper, to dig beneath the superficial qualities that make both match-ups objectively simple to figure out. Here, I’ll take you in different directions, raise hopefully enlightening statistical analysis and maybe, by the end, you’ll have a greater sense of how each team stands going into what should be another excellent weekend of NCAA Tournament hoops.
To start off our team preview series, which you can expect each day from now until Friday, the least known commodity on the block, Wichita State, is up to bat.
Pre-NCAA Tournament Capsule. One year removed from earning a #5 seed in the NCAA Tournament, a highly successful 27-6 win season and an MVC regular season championship, Wichita State entered 2012-13 with rightfully lowered expectations. You lose your top five scorers from a year ago, enter an overall improved league with an even more improved chief rival (Creighton), and you get the feeling a return trip to the NCAA Tournament maybe just isn’t in the cards this season. This was set up to be a textbook transition year, a season to take inventory and reload for the future. The spoils of 2011-12 – an at-large Tournament berth, regular season conference championship, that kind of stuff – were pretty much off the table. Now Gregg Marshall’s team has not only exceeded last season’s first-round Tourney knockout, but find themselves two wins away from the completely unthinkable: a first-ever national championship.