The Shockers are big 10.5-point Bovada underdogs against top overall seed Louisville for Saturday’s Final Four opener in Atlanta.
The highest seed to reach the finals was No. 8 Villanova in 1985 when the Wildcats went on to beat Georgetown for the national title in one of the sport’s biggest upsets. Wichita State is the second No. 9 to ever reach the Final Four, joining the 1979 Penn team. It’s the second national semifinal trip for Wichita State overall. The 1965 team lost in the third-place game.
Wichita State (30-8) finished second in the Missouri Valley Conference to Creighton, both in the regular season and conference tournament. The Shockers have been a betting underdog against Pittsburgh, Gonzaga and Ohio State in this tournament. They were up 20 points in the second half on Sunday against the Big Ten Tournament champion Buckeyes before OSU nearly rallied at the end.
The team’s good karma could be due to the fact that star player Carl Hall cut his trademark dreadlocks, which he had worn throughout his WSU career, on the eve of the tournament. The 6-foot-8 Hall is the Shockers’ second-leading scorer at 12.8 points a game and the team’s leading rebounder at 7.2 per game. Wichita State is one of the nation’s better rebounding teams, especially on the offensive end. It’s also a very good defensive team. WSU has held three of four NCAA Tournament opponents under an average of one point per possession. The team is 23-1 this year when doing that. The Shockers are +1200 to cut down the nets next Monday.
It’s the 10th and second straight Final Four appearance for Louisville — the Cardinals lost to eventual national champion Kentucky in last year’s semifinals. They opened this tournament as the favorites and have done nothing to change that, beating their four opponents by an average of nearly 22 points. Louisville has won 14 straight since a five-overtime loss at Notre Dame, and all but two of those wins have been by at least 10 points.
U of L, which is -140 to win the national title, leads the nation in defensive efficiency rankings. The Cardinals allow just 0.82 points per possession and are No. 2 in the country in defensive turnover percentage, as opposing teams give it away on almost 28 perecent of their possessions against Louisville. Duke, one of the nation’s best offensive teams, scored their second-fewest points of the season in Sunday’s 85-63 defeat and shot 36.5 percent from the field while getting nine shots blocked. The Blue Devils had beaten Louisville 76-71 earlier this year.
The Cardinals (33-5) also have the guy playing better than anyone in this tournament in guard Russ Smith. He’s averaging 26.0 points and is the Final Four Most Outstanding Player favorite, now at 4-5.
Wichita State and Louisville have faced two common opponents this season: Pittsburgh and Northern Iowa. The Shockers beat Pitt 73-55 in their tournament opener and split two regular-season meetings with Northern Iowa. Louisville beat Pittsburgh 64-61 in their lone meeting and beat Northern Iowa 51-46 in November.