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Final Four is juggernaut vs. Cinderella, offense vs. defense

Michigan coach John Beileis familiar with Syracuse’s redoubtable zone. | Ronald Martinez~Getty Images

Michigan coach John Beilein is familiar with Syracuse’s redoubtable zone. | Ronald Martinez~Getty Images

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The Final Four

At the Georgia Dome, Atlanta

Saturday’s semifinals (Ch. 2)

◆ Louisville (33-5) vs. Wichita State (30-8), 5 p.m.

◆ Michigan (30-7) vs. Syracuse (30-9), 7:30 p.m.

Next Monday (Ch. 2)

Semifinal winners, 8 p.m.

Updated: May 2, 2013 6:38AM



There’s a little something for everybody in this Final Four.

One semifinal in Atlanta on Saturday should be a classic study in offense vs. defense. Can explosive Michigan keep it going against lockdown Syracuse?

In the other, tournament surprise Wichita State will try to keep its Cinderella run going against the Louisville juggernaut, which is rallying around a fallen teammate.

In a year in which there were some really good teams but no really great teams, it looked as if 15 or 20 teams were capable of reaching this Final Four. Considering that Wichita State is still dancing, that range might have been low.

Louisville
vs. Wichita State

Coach Gregg Marshall has been urging his Shockers to “play angry.’’ To hang with Louisville, he might have to ask them to “play fast.’’

The Cardinals have serious wheels. They showed them Sunday against Duke. Their Elite Eight matchup had a Final Four feel going in. Then Louisville, which has won its four NCAA games by 21.7 points a game, raced past the Blue Devils 85-63. That dashed hopes that this marquee matchup would be like 1992, when Duke edged Rick Pitino and Kentucky in a storied showdown.

There was unfortunate drama, though. No words can express the compassion felt for Louisville guard Kevin Ware, who went down in agony with a gruesome broken leg.

When the Cardinals try to give Pitino his second national championship (Kentucky, 1996) in his seventh Final Four appearance, Ware, a high school star in Georgia, will be on their minds, as he was against Duke.

“We won this for him,’’ Pitino said. “We were all choked up with emotion for him. We talked about it every timeout. ‘Get Kevin home.’ ’’

Wichita, which made its only other Final Four trip in 1965, plans to show up.

“I don’t think we’re Cinderella at all,’’ Marshall said. “You beat a No. 1 seed [Gonzaga] and a No. 2 seed [Ohio State], you can win the whole thing.’’

Michigan vs. Syracuse

Until the ball is tipped, theories on whether Michigan’s shooters can crack Syracuse’s zone will remain unproved.

“They’re the toughest offensive team in the tournament for us because they shoot the ball so well,’’ Orange coach Jim Boeheim said.

The Wolverines demonstrated that by following a stunning double-digit comeback against Kansas with a blazing start in their rout of Florida. The question is, will they keep putting the ball in the basket?

Michigan has options. Trey Burke, the national-player-of-the-year front-runner, hit the big baskets in the rally to beat Kansas. Against Florida, freshman Nik Stauskas erupted for 22 points on 7-for-8 three-point shooting.

Tim Hardaway Jr., Glenn Rice III and Mitch McGary also can challenge the Orange zone, which has only given up 79 points in the first halves of its four tourney games.

But defense tends to be there game in and game out. Shooting is less predictable. Stauskas was 2-for-12 from beyond the arc in the three games before he swamped Florida and had not made more than two threes in a game since Feb. 5.

Coach John Beilein is familiar with the Syracuse zone from coaching at West Virginia. Michigan will go to school on it, but the most important key is not a secret, he said: “When you get open shots, you need to make them to beat them. And that will be our plan.’’

Boeheim, making his fourth Final Four appearance, will be trying for a second national championship 10 years after his first.

Beilein, who lost in the 2005 Elite Eight with the Mountaineers, will be making his first Final Four appearance. But with victories over past champions Billy Donovan and Bill Self and hot commodity Shaka Smart in his last three games, his credentials are established.



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