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Point/Counterpoint: Who will win the NCAA basketball tournament?

BY DI STAFF | APRIL 02, 2013 5:00 AM

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Louisville Cardinals

No. 1 overall seed Louisville marches on to the Final Four, and it does not seem like anyone is going to stop them from winning it all at this point. The Cardinals shook off an ugly leg injury suffered by sophomore Kevin Ware on Sunday to knock off Duke in a commanding way. The Cardinals outscored Duke 50-31 in the second half, and won the game, 85-63.

The common theme that has helped the Cardinals run through this tournament is their smothering defense. They have held tournament opponents to just 59 points per game while scoring nearly 81. Junior guard Russ Smith leads the charge on defense, and with his relentless play, he has averaged 3.2 steals per game. The team averages 12 per game as a whole. These turnovers are creating extra possessions for the Cardinals to continue to score, which is why their point margin is so high.

Smith also gets it done at the offensive end — he has averaged 26 points per game in the tournament. With backcourt partner Peyton Siva, Smith has the Cardinals clicking on all cylinders. The two are considered to be one of the best backcourt tandems in the nation.

Big man Gorgui Dieng has also been extremely effective, averaging 7.5 rebounds per game. His ability to alter shots on the defense end has been a big part of the Cardinal’s defense.

Look for Louisville to come out with heavy hearts following the loss of Ware against the Wichita State Shockers on Saturday. They should cruise through that game and set up a matchup with the winner of the Michigan-Syracuse game. However, the way the Cardinals are playing on both sides of the ball right now don’t look for anyone to beat them on their pursuit for the title.

— by Scott Albanese

Michigan Wolverines

The Michigan Wolverines have made some changes since the beginning of March Madness, and it’s going to take them all the way to an NCAA title. 

Since losing in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament to Wisconsin, the former No. 1 ranked Wolverines have won three of their four tournament games by double digits. Their lone single-digit win came in an 87-85 overtime victory against Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen. 

The biggest change has been the contributions from forward Mitch McGary. The freshman forward played in all 33 regular-season games but started only two of them. Since the Wolverine’s first NCAA matchup, McGary has started all four games and has had a huge effect, none bigger than matchup with Kansas, in which he scored 25 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. 

McGary hasn’t been the only component behind the Wolverine’s success. All season long, Trey Burke has been a phenomenal player, but he, too, has upped his game in the tourney. Look no further than the Big Ten Player of the Year’s 3-pointer to force overtime against the Jayhawks to solidify that statement. 

The bigger role for 6-10 McGary has helped Michigan’s post game, allowing the Wolverines to get better looks for shooters, such as fellow freshman Nik Stauskas, who scored 22 points on 6-of-6 3-point shooting in Michigan’s Elite Eight rout of the Florida Gators. 

And that’s without mentioning Tim Hardaway Jr., Glenn Robinson III, or Jon Horford. The Wolverines are loaded with talent, and, just as they were in early February, are playing basketball at an extremely high level. 

When the 3-pointers are falling for Michigan, which they do frequently, and McGary lighting it up underneath the basket, it’s tough to imagine Syracuse, Wichita State, or Louisville being able to beat a team playing at such a high level. And the experience Michigan gained from playing in the nation’s toughest conference will only help them down the stretch of its final games. 

Hail to the victors indeed.

— by Matt Cabel

Syracuse

I have three words for why Syracuse will win its first national championship since someone by the name of Carmelo Anthony dominated the rest of the country. TWO THREE ZONE. I know Syracuse “struggles” to score (71.9 points per game, 80th in the country) but this defense is unreal.

It all starts up top with 6-6 sophomore Michael-Carter Williams and 6-4 Brandon Triche. If you think that Michigan’s little guards are going to be able to penetrate and kick through that, good luck. Michigan lives with its guards, Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. The duo combines for 34 points per game, but I would bet they combine for 20 against this stifling defense.

Reason No. 2 that Syracuse will win the title: Jim Boeheim. He has more than 900 wins in his career for a reason, and the man knows how to win in March. Boeheim has a record of 3-0 in the national semifinals and always seems to get his team prepared for the big game.

Reason No. 3, and the best of all, is that the Orange have someone who can do a little bit everything; in other words, they are a complete team. They have the two guards to go along with sharpshooter James Southerland, who shoots 46 percent from the field and an astounding 40 percent from behind the arc. I haven’t even mentioned the freaky athletic C.J. Fair, who seems to have a hand in every, single possession.

Fine, I’ll give you another reason if you really want it. Once they breeze through Michigan (sorry, the Wolverines lost to Penn State, and I’m just not buying into them), they will most likely face Louisville. If I’m telling you Trey Burke isn’t going to beat this unremarkably good zone, the overrated Peyton Silva surely isn’t.

My prediction: Syracuse will beat Michigan, 65-52, then move on to beat Louisville, 71-61. Silva will foul out with eight minutes left, and Russ Smith will shoot like his brother, J.R., and go 6-of-19 from the field.

— by Nick Delaquila


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