Final Four Preview: Can Wichita State ‘shock’ Louisville?

Wichita State “shocked” (alright we said it) the rest of the West Region by knocking out Gonzaga and Ohio State en route to the Final Four. Can they do the same to top-seeded Louisville?

9 Wichita State (30-8, 12-6 Missouri Valley)

Malcolm Armstead and the Shockers will have to slow the game down in order to beat the 'Ville. (Harry How/Getty Images)

Malcolm Armstead and the Shockers will have to slow the game down in order to beat the ‘Ville. (Harry How/Getty Images)

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Def. 8 Pittsburgh, 73-55, def. 1 Gonzaga,76-70, def. 13 La Salle, 72-58, def. 2 Ohio State, 70-66.

TEAM OVERVIEW: The Shockers have won with defense, terrific three-point shooting, and a backcourt which has belied its youth with its play. Freshmen Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet and sophomore Tekele Cotton have been outstanding all tournament long, knocking down big shots in clutch situations and locking down opposing backcourts. Van Vleet hit perhaps the two biggest shots of the season for Wichita State–first when he drained a 30-footer with just over a minute to go and the shot clock winding down against Gonzaga, and then when his runner touched every part of the rim before falling with less than a minute to play against Ohio State. Both shots sealed Shockers victories.

SENIOR LEADERSHIP: Senior guard Malcolm Armstead was named the West Region’s Most Outstanding Player. He’s been outstanding in the NCAAs, going for 22 and 5 assists against Pittsburgh and 18 and 4 against La Salle. He’s also a solid rebounder for being just 6-0. Big men Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall have been steady in the tournament, and the two were a huge reason why the Shockers were able to control the boards and push out to a 20-point lead on Ohio State. Amazingly, this may not be head coach Greg Marshall’s most talented team at Wichita State, but the Wheat Shockers were still able to reach the Final Four.


Shockers forward Carl Hall thought he'd never play basketball again when doctors diagnosed him with a heart condition in 2007. (Harry How/Getty)

Shockers forward Carl Hall thought he’d never play basketball again when doctors diagnosed him with a heart condition in 2007. (Harry How/Getty)

BEST STORYLINE: There are a few competing storylines here. Armstead left a full-ride scholarship at Oregon, where he was a starter, to pay his own way at Wichita State. He wasn’t happy in Eugene, so he bolted for Kansas, working at a car dealership part-time in order to pay his bills. “You gotta take gambles in life, man, and this paid off,” he said. Yahoo!’s Jay Wright writes more about that here.

Head coach Gregg Marshall lost his brother-in-law before the Elite Eight and has been coaching with a heavy heart. He’s one of the most underrated coaches in the game, and is now finally getting his day in the sun after bringing Winthrop University to 7 NCAA appearances in 9 seasons.

But the best story on the Shockers might be Carl Hall’s. The 6-8 senior thought he’d never play basketball again after doctors diagnosed him with a heart condition in 2007. He fell into depression, “the boy thought his life was over,” said his mother, and returned home before his freshman year of college even began. Doctors finally allowed him to return to the court in 2009, and he’s made the most of his comeback. Read more about Hall in this Atlanta Journal-Constitution story.

HOW THEY CAN WIN: Wichita State will need to shoot the ball well in order to hang around with Louisville. The Shockers ranked 115th in the nation in field goal percentage this season, but they’ve been much better in the NCAA Tournament. They knocked down 14 threes against Gonzaga. They might need a similar performance in order to hang with the high-flying Cardinals. Louisville likes to make the game lightning-fast and will bring relentless pressure against the Shockers’ inexperienced backcourt. How they handle it will be one of the keys to the game. If Wichita State is able to control the pace, keep the game in the 60’s, and can knock down a bunch of threes, it will have a great chance to win. But other than that, it’s hard to see the Shockers pulling, well…the shocker.

PREDICTION: Louisville 78, Wichita State 66.



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