Lost in all the hoopla surrounding the Michigan comeback for the ages and the end of the storybook run of Florida Gulf Coast (thank you Eagles for energizing the tourney, it was a blast), was the dominant performance by the Duke Blue Devils against the team EVERY pundit had “manhandling” them and being too “tough” and “physical” for Duke to compete; the Michigan State Spartans. Duke was tough, defended with aggressiveness and tenacity and canned free throw after free throw to take out Tom Izzo and Sparty. It sets up what is easily the best regional final, Duke vs. Louisville. The Blue Devils beat them early in the season in the Bahamas, but that was four months ago and it was without Giorgi Dieng.
Can the Blue Devils knock off the #1 overall seed and advance to the Final Four??
We’ll cover that game in depth tomorrow, so be sure to check back for the pick. In the meantime, let’s break down tonight’s second regional final, and intriguing matchup of a veteran household name and a tough, physical squad from the Missouri Valley.
Wichita State Shockers vs. Ohio State Buckeyes -4.5 (West Regional Final)
Ohio State is the only blue-blood to survive the carnagae in the Western Region. #3 New Mexico, #4 Kansas State and #5 Wisconsin all bowed out in the opening round. #1 Gonzaga followed suit in round two (courtesy of the Shockers). All of a sudden, all that stood between the Buckeyes and a second consecutive Final Four was themselves…. Or was it?
Wichita State is a good team and not the plucky ‘happy-to-be-here’ underdog their conference affiliation and #9 seed would suggest. Yes, A MVC team hasn’t been to the Final Four since Larry Joe Bird and the Indiana State Sycamores met Magic in 1979, and yes, Wichita State is deeper in the tourney than they’ve been since 1981 and featured Xavier McDaniel. So it is improbable in one sense. But it isn’t impossible. There is a REASON Wichita State is only a 4.5 point dog in Vegas. It’s because this isn’t a total mismatch.
Wichita State has rolled through the tourney, beating Pitt, Gonzaga and La Salle by a combined 38 points. They also won regular season games against VCU, Southern Miss, Creighton and at Iowa. They’ve seen good competition and fared well.
However, I’m not sure they’ve seen a team with the long, athletic scorers of Ohio State. With LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith Jr. finding their stride, it takes some of the pressure off the best scorer in the tournament, DeShaun Thomas. Ross has 17 points in each of the last two games, including the cold-blooded game winner against Arizona. That gives them three legitimate scoring option and provides the bulkier yet less-fleet Wichita State defense with some tough matchup issues.
And then there is Aaron Craft. There are flashier point guards. There are better scorers. But for my money, in a tight game (yes, I saw Trey Burke last night and all season), I’ll take Aaron Craft as my quarterback. He just makes the right plays at the right time and is ridiculously cool in the hottest of moments. Add in his disruptive ball pressure, and I think Craft is the difference in tonight’s game.
Wichita State is a good team, but Ohio State is a very, very good team playing its best basketball of the season. I like the Buckeyes to control the pace, take care of the basketball and in the end, be just a little too dynamic for the Shockers to contain. It should be a good game, but give me OSU to pull away late and squeak out the cover.
Free Pick: Ohio State Buckeyes -4.5