Pittsburgh was their first victim. Then it was Gonzaga, followed by LaSalle and Ohio State. The Wichita State Shockers have seemed to dominate the four teams they have played thus far in the tournament. The clichéd phrase “shocking the nation” has been tossed left and right since the Shockers knocked out Gonzaga in the Round of 32. But has Wichita State’s “Cinderella story” really been that shocking?
I know it may be hard to believe, but there are more than just redneck farm boys on this basketball team. There is deep, athletic talent coached by an incredibly intelligent staff. When you put two and two together, Wichita State is composed of an ideal tournament roster.
Their point guard, Malcolm Armstead, is a dauntless guard who takes the ball to the hoop with confidence. Red shirt freshman Ron Baker’s three point shooting has been surreal in the tournament, hitting 40% of his attempts from long range. The Shocker’s big men, Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall, are strong rebounders who can be scoring threats. Along with impressive starters, Wichita State is complemented with arguably the deepest bench in the tournament. All but two of the Shocker players average 11+ minutes per game, and none more than 29. With nine players playing over 25% of the game, Wichita State lacks visual tiredness, giving them an advantage with their fresh legs. The issue for the Shockers, as the second best team from the Missouri Valley Conference meets the Big East champion, Louisville, is experience.
This Saturday, Wichita State will have their biggest game in school history against Louisville. Wichita State’s leading scorer, Early, averages just 13.7 points per game. When compared to Louisville’s Russ Smith, who puts up 19 a game, Early looks like David facing Goliath. The same goes for every Shocker when put next to every Cardinal. However, the stamina and togetherness Wichita State has could spell doom for the Cardinals. Unfortunately for the Shockers, Louisville is motivated more than ever because of Kevin Ware’s devastating leg injury suffered in the Elite Eight.
I believe the winner of this game will face Michigan in the National Championship. There, I think the champion is a toss-up. Louisville’s motivation could carry over into Monday’s game, benefiting them greatly. Wichita State’s run could continue into the championship game, where all of the pressure would be on the expected-winner, Michigan. The Wolverines’ Trey Burke has been absolutely red hot, though, and has his team fearless. Although this Final Four has been unlike those in previous years, whoever emerges on top will still have well-earned it.
The Jayhawks could not have started worse against Ohio State. Tyshawn Taylor and the squad seemed nervous and timid. KU had nine turnovers and shot 29 percent from the field. Kansas could not get in a rhythm offensively in the first half. While credit must be given to Ohio State’s stifling defense, the main problem was no being used to the atmosphere of a Final Four. At the end of the first half the score was 34-25 Ohio State. Bill Self and his team have been a second half team all tournament long. The resilience of this group of players can not be questioned after watching their road to the championship. At the start of the second half KU seemed like a completely different team. They were energetic and were executing in their half court sets. Also, the shots that were not falling in the first half began to go in.
In the second half, both Thomas Robinson and Elijah Johnson were taking over the game. Thomas Robinson became his old dominant self again by scoring 11 points in the second half. Elijah Johnson was attacking the basket at will, mainly through transition. Johnson scored eleven points in the second half as well. Jeff Withey was a major difference maker on the defensive end in the second half as he neutralized Ohio State’s best player in Jared Sullinger with his length and shot blocking abilities. KU finished the comeback win in the final moments of game winning 64-62. It is to hard to give a game ball out because four players stood out equally. Travis Releford, for his glove like defense on senior William Buford, Thomas Robinson for his late game surge with continues baskets, Elijah Johnson with his 11 points in the second half, and Jeff Withey for shutting down one of the best big men in the country for an entire half. The game ball should ultimately go to Travis Releford for his work on both ends of the court. Along with his always great defense, he managed to contribute with 15 points.
Tyshawn Taylor continued his drought from the three point line now being 0-21 for the NCAA tournament. However, Travis Releford was a surprise offensively because he finished with fifteen points and seemed to score at crucial times for KU. Jeff Withey may have only finished with 4 points, but had seven blocks and altered many more shots. In the first half, Thomas Robinson was trying to force things offensively, which he cannot due in the next game against Kentucky.
KU will play for the National Championship Monday against the extremely young and talented, Kentucky Wild Cats. These two teams met earlier this season with Kentucky winning 75-65. Both Kentucky and Kansas are completely different teams since the pervious matchup. Kentucky has their offense working just as well a the defense has been all year. While most people proclaim the Wild Cats as a defensive team, the offensive development has caught up. While Kansas has had many players emerge since then with Elijah Johnson, Trevor Releford, and Jeff Withey, the battle will be an extremly tough one.
This will be the most talented team Kansas has played against all year. Kentucky has six first round picks on their roster and will have the first two picks for the 2012 NBA draft in Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. For the Jayhawks to win, they will need to play a near perfect game. The first key for them is to get Anthony Davis in foul trouble which is a hard feat to accomplish. He has only fouled out of one game all season. Without their shot blocking machine, Kentucky has looked like a beatable team. Kentucky suffered its first loss of the year against Indiana and Anthony Davis was in foul trouble most of the game. The second key for Kansas is to out rebound Kentucky. This is tough task because of the athleticism Kentucky has on the court. The third and final key is to shoot the ball above 50% against Kentucky. If KU can accomplish these three keys, they will celebrate their another National Championship.