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Final Four kicks off from Atlanta on TSN, TSN Mobile TV

Associated Press

4/6/2013 12:55:29 PM

Atlanta, GA (Sports Network) - The only top seed to survive the NCAA Tournament to this point, Louisville, takes part in its second straight Final Four, as the Cardinals meet the surprising Wichita State Shockers in one of two national semifinal games being played this evening at the Georgia Dome.

The winner of this game will take on either Syracuse or Michigan for the national title on Monday night.

Wacth the Cardinals face the Shockers live on TSN and TSN Mobile TV at 6pm et/3pm pt.

Rick Pitino is making his seventh trip to the Final Four, tying for fourth all-time with North Carolina's Roy Williams. The Cardinals overcame a very emotional evening in Indianapolis last weekend, and routed the Duke Blue Devils (85-63) to move onto the Final Four. The team navigated the Midwest Region prior to the win over Duke, by disposing of NC A&T (79-48), Colorado State (82-56) and Oregon (77-69). Overall, the Cardinals have won 14 straight games and are now tied for the most wins in school history at 33-5 (1980 and 2005). The team ranks seventh in Final Fours (10), sixth in tournament victories (68) and fifth in overall tournament appearances (39).

Gregg Marshall's Shockers have also set a school record with wins this season. The team's upset of Ohio State in last weekend's Elite Eight moved it to 30-8 overall. Despite losing out on the Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament titles to Creighton, it is Wichita State that survived its bracket with West Regional wins over Pittsburgh (73-55), top-seeded and top- ranked Gonzaga (76-70) and La Salle (72-58), prior to disposing of the Buckeyes. The Shockers have embraced the Cinderella moniker in this event, where they are making just their 10th all-time appearance. Wichita State is 12-10 in NCAA Tournament play with one other Final Four appearance, that coming way back in 1965.

These two teams used to be regular foes in the Missouri Valley Conference (1963-74) and as a result, there has been more than a few previous meetings between them. Louisville holds a 19-5 series advantage, although the two haven't met since 1976.

It was West Regional MVP Malcolm Armstead's 14 points and seven rebounds that led the Shockers to yet another upset win, this time over Ohio State in last weekend's regional final at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Cleanthony Early and Fred VanVleet added 12 points apiece, while Tekele Cotton finished with 10 points for Wichita State, which overcame a poor shooting performance by shutting down the Buckeyes, who hit an ugly 31.1 percent from the floor, including only 5-of-25 from behind the arc. The Shockers dominated play in the first half, taking a 35-22 lead into the break after holding the Buckeyes to just eight field goals and outrebounding them 27-17 over the first 20 minutes of action. WSU built up a 20-point lead in the second half, but the Buckeyes came roaring back with a 25-9 run to make a game of it, falling in the end by just four points.

A grind-it-out team that lacks any real star power, Wichita State gets it done with hard work.

"First of all, they're very good people. They let us coach them," said Marshall following the Ohio State win. "They have great character. I mean, there are times when it's not easy in our practice sessions. They allow us to coach them. The team comes first, and they bought into defense and rebounding. Number two, they're athletic. They're strong. They're physically and mentally tough."

Hard-nosed defense has been the name of the game for the Shockers, who come into the Final Four allowing just 60.9 ppg, while holding the competition under 40 percent shooting (.393). In addition, the team enjoys a +8.0 rebounding margin, while forcing 13.1 turnovers and 7.5 steals per game. Early headlines a trio of double-digit scorers with 13.7 ppg. Carl Hall is next in line at 12.5 ppg and tops the team on the boards (6.9 rpg). Armstead runs the show at the point, with the ability to both find his own shot (10.9 ppg) as well as direct offensive opportunities to others (3.9 apg).

It was a back-and-forth game with the Blue Devils last weekend in the first half, when sophomore forward Kevin Ware tried to block a Duke 3-pointer and came down awkwardly on his leg, suffering a compound fracture that left everyone in Lucas Oil Stadium and millions of lookers-on at home shocked and dismayed by the fallen Cardinal. After several minutes on the side of the court to address the injury, Ware was carted off and taken to the hospital, leaving his emotionally-charged teammates to finish the task at hand.

"Basically, the bone popped out of the skin. It broke in two spots," Pitino said. "Remember the bone is six inches out of his leg, and all he's yelling is 'Win the game, win the game.' I've never seen anything like that."

The Cardinals delivered, turning a 3-point halftime lead into a 22-point rout, thanks to suffocating full-court pressure and plenty of offensive fireworks. Russ Smith, who was named the Midwest Regional MVP, put on another super performance, finishing with 23 points. Backcourt partner Peyton Siva poured in 16, while center Gorgui Dieng and forward Luke Hancock finished with 14 and 10 points, respectively. Dieng had a huge impact in the paint, adding 11 rebounds and four blocks to his solid stat line.

"I don't think we could have gathered ourselves -- I know I couldn't have -- if Kevin (Ware) didn't say over and over again, 'Just go win the game,'" said Pitino. "I don't think we could have gone in the locker room with a loss after seeing that. We had to gather ourselves. We couldn't lose this game for him."

Smith (18.9 ppg) has been electrifying and pretty much unstoppable in the postseason, averaging 26.0 ppg in the first four games of this event. Dieng (10.2 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 78 blocks) has provided balance with his physical presence down low. Siva (9.9 ppg, 5.8 apg) is both a scoring threat and premier distributor. The Cardinals possess great depth in terms of role players, even with the loss of Ware, as Chane Behanan (9.6 ppg), Wayne Blackshear (7.8 ppg) and Hancock (5.7 ppg) can help at both ends.

Ware, who had successful surgery to repair his leg, will be on hand to watch this game and will certainly serve as inspiration for his team.

"He'll be with us in Atlanta," Pitino said in a press conference this week. "Kevin is from Atlanta. He gets to go home, be with his family and be with us on the bench."

Syracuse, Michigan square off in Final Four

Atlanta, GA (Sports Network) - A pair of No. 4 seeds meet in the second Final Four matchup tonight, as the Syracuse Orange tangle with the Michigan Wolverines for the right to play for the national championship.

The Michigan Wolverines face the Orange, live on TSN and TSN Mobile TV at 9pm et/6pm pt.

Syracuse, under the tutelage of legendary coach Jim Boeheim, is appearing in its fifth Final Four and its first since winning it all back in 2003. Boeheim is 3-0 in national semifinals (1987, 1996, 2003), and the Orange own a record of 60-35 all-time in the tournament.

SU earned its way to Atlanta by knocking off Montana (81-34), California (66-60), Indiana (61-50) and Marquette (55-39), and the team has won seven of its last eight games dating back to the Big East Conference Tournament -- the lone setback during the stretch coming in that event's championship game against Louisville.

Syracuse (30-9) had lost four of its final five regular season games, and with the emotion of this being its final campaign in the Big East, the fact that his team has reached this point is something of a surprise to Boeheim.

"We didn't expect to get here, but you always have that hope. It's a great feeling. This team has come together, and sometimes that happens at tournament time." Boeheim continued, "Whenever you get here [Final Four] it's great. I was disappointed last year as I thought we had the team to do it. But this team's a good team, and we've been playing good basketball so I'm happy at this stage."

It's been 20 years since Michigan last reached the Final Four, as the "Fab Five" as they were affectionately named, won their 1993 semifinal bout against Kentucky before falling to North Carolina in the national championship game. The Wolverines also reached the title tilt the season before, losing to Duke. Since then, both appearances have been vacated due to NCAA sanctions, but this year's club is hopeful of playing in Monday's championship game as it seeks the second national title in program history, the first coming back in 1989. Michigan's adjusted NCAA Tournament record currently stands at 40-18, and the team has won five of its last six games -- the loss coming in the quarterfinal round of the Big Ten Conference Tournament against Wisconsin.

This is Michigan's fifth official Final Four appearance, seventh when taking into account the two vacated seasons, and the team's 30-7 record this year is a testament to both the talent on the roster and the coaching job turned in by John Beilein and his staff. UM's road to Atlanta has featured several easy wins along with an overtime thriller. Getting past South Dakota State (71-56) and VCU (78-53) wasn't really an issue, but it took a miracle shot from star guard Trey Burke to help propel the club past Kansas (87-85 in OT), and then it used the momentum garnered from that win to whip Florida (79-59) in last Sunday's South Regional final.

Beilein, who has never beaten a Boeheim-coached squad in nine previous opportunities, spoke about reaching this point for the first time in his 36- year coaching career.

"I didn't think much about that; I didn't think it was possible because I didn't think about it. I'm sort of always thinking about what can we do right now to be a better team, what can I do to be a better coach, a better father, a better teacher. Always with the idea that if you do all those things, anything is possible in your life."

Syracuse owns an 8-5 series advantage over Michigan, with the most recent encounter taking place in the 2010 Legends Classic which the Orange won in a 53-50 final. This bout marks the first-ever meeting between the two in the NCAA Tournament.

In last weekend's East Regional final against fellow Big East member Marquette, James Southerland scored 16 points, C.J. Fair tallied 13 points and six rebounds, and Michael Carter-Williams finished with 12 points, eight boards, six assists and five steals to lead the Orange to a relatively easy win. SU played exceptional defense, taking advantage of 14 turnovers while limiting the Golden Eagles to 22.6 percent field goal efficiency, which included a woeful 3-of-24 showing from 3-point range.

Carter-Williams, who was named the East Region's MVP, has been the catalyst for Syracuse for much of the season, as he is averaging 12.1 points, 4.9 caroms and 7.4 helpers per contest. Fair (14.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg) is the club's leading scorer and rebounder, and additional production comes from both Brandon Triche (13.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.5 apg) and Southerland (13.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg). Rakeem Christmas rounds out the starting five, and while he isn't much of a threat offensively (5.1 ppg), he can be a game-changer on defense (72 blocks). Carter-Williams is also a defensive whiz, notching 109 of the team's 355 steals.

Syracuse nets an average of 70.8 ppg while permitting a mere 58.6 ppg -- the latter figure ranking the team 21st in the country. Its .368 field goal percentage against ranks third-best nationally.

Michigan guard Nik Stauskas (22 points, three assists) drained all six of his 3-point attempts, five of which came during a 19-point first half, and the Wolverines put forth a solid defensive effort as they routed third-seeded Florida last weekend to punch their ticket to Atlanta. Burke tallied 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, while Mitch McGary added 11 points and nine boards in the surprisingly easy win. UM wound up going 10-of-19 from beyond the arc (.526), while at the same time holding the Gators to 41.1 percent accuracy on their total shots, which included a poor 2-of-10 showing from long range.

Burke (18.8 ppg, 6.8 apg), who was named the 2012-13 Big Ten Player of the Year and who also won the Wooden Award and Oscar Robertson Trophy as the national player of the year, is clearly the guy Beilein and the young Wolverines rely on most. Despite his undeniable talent, Burke isn't the only one to command attention from opposing teams though, as Tim Hardaway, Jr. (14.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg), Stauskas (11.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg, .471 3-point FG percentage), Glenn Robinson III (11.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and McGary (7.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg) have all proven their worth at different times this season.

As a team, Michigan averages 75.5 ppg while allowing 62.9 ppg, and the Maize and Blue simply don't make many mistakes (9.4 turnovers per tilt) while converting 48.5 percent of their field goal attempts, which includes a 38.5 percent mark from beyond the arc.