NCAA Final Four preview: Tale of the tape


NCAA Final Four preview: Tale of the tape

Your bracket may already be busted and your favorite Philly team may have already been eliminated.

But there is still basketball -- very good basketball -- left to be played before the NCAA tournament concludes and “One Shining Moment” is sung.

To help get you ready for college basketball’s biggest weekend, here’s a breakdown of both NCAA Final Four games in Atlanta -- from the important to the inane.

Wichita State (30-8) vs. Louisville (33-5)
Saturday, 6:09 p.m., CBS

Road to Atlanta
Ninth-seeded Wichita State has enjoyed one of the most improbable runs in NCAA tournament history, upsetting three teams in the Pomeroy top 11 (Pittsburgh, Gonzaga and Ohio State) and beating a La Salle team we all know is very difficult to match up against. Louisville, the top seed in the Midwest, had a relatively easy road before beating Duke in the regional finals, needing to get by North Carolina AT&T, Colorado State and Oregon. Advantage: Wichita State.

Gregg Marshall has coached his mid-major teams (first Winthrop and now Wichita State) to the Big Dance in nine of the past 15 seasons and will likely be a candidate for some high-major jobs in the near future. Rick Pitino has taken three different teams to the Final Four and is one of the best at his profession. Advantage: Louisville.

Star attraction
For Louisville, Russ Smith is one of the best scorers in college basketball and Peyton Siva is one of the nation’s premier point guards. Wichita State leading scorer Cleanthony Early is not exactly a household name (although he should be because that’s an awesome name). Advantage: Louisville.

Louisville small forwards Wayne Blackshear and Luke Hancock will both likely have to play expanded minutes in the backcourt following the horrific injury to top reserve guard Kevin Ware (more on that below). For Wichita State, redshirt freshman guard Ron Baker missed 21 games this season because of a stress fracture but returned in time for the Missouri Valley Conference tournament and has become one of the most unlikely starters in the Final Four. Advantage: Wichita State.

Style of play
The Shockers are one of the best rebounding teams in the country and have used their strength inside to get this far in the NCAA tournament. Louisville likes to press and run, using its exceptional defensive pressure to make you turn the ball over. The Cardinals rank second in the nation in steals per game, behind only VCU. Advantage: Louisville.

This is Wichita State’s second Final Four ever. This is Louisville’s second Final Four in the last two years. Advantage: Louisville.

Wichita State has an entire mid-major army behind them hoping to see the Shockers break through and do what mid-major brethren Butler, VCU and George Mason could not: win a national championship. Louisville has the extra motivation of playing for Ware, who suffered one of the most gruesome injuries ever shown on TV (and who also appears to be just an incredible person and teammate in subsequent interviews). Advantage: Louisville.

Nothing against the Cardinal bird, but “Shockers” is a great name (especially for headline writers) that is derived from students shocking wheat. That’s why their mascot has a head full of wheat (or something). Advantage: Wichita State.

Famous basketball alumni
Wes Unseld was a three-time All-American at Louisville before his Hall of Fame NBA playing career began. Xavier “The X-Man” McDaniel was the first person to lead the nation in both scoring and rebounding while at Wichita State. Advantage: Louisville.

Famous non-basketball alumni
The great Johnny Unitas starred at Louisville and fellow Pro Football Hall of Famer Bill Parcells went to Wichita State. Advantage: Louisville.

Philly connection
Longtime Eagles kicker and fan favorite David Akers went to Louisville. Joe Carter, forever a Philly nemesis, was the Sporting News magazine’s 1981 College Player of the Year while at Wichita state. Advantage: Louisville.

Louisville is a heavy favorite for good reason. The Cardinals are a well-coached and talented team that has all the tools to win in March -- and now April. Wichita State has Top 25 talent, but its magical run will end two wins shy of a national title. Louisville 71, Wichita State 62.

Syracuse (30-9) vs. Michigan (30-7)
Saturday, 8:49 p.m., CBS

Road to Atlanta
As No. 4 seeds, both Syracuse and Michigan needed to upset a top seed, as the Orange beat Indiana and Michigan toppled Kansas. Michigan also had to get by tough VCU and Florida teams (as well as South Dakota State), while Syracuse topped Montana, California and Marquette. Advantage: Michigan.

John Beilein has now enjoyed some March magic with both Michigan and West Virginia and is one of just nine college coaches to have taken four different teams to the NCAA tournament. Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim has been the head coach at only one school –- but has won over 900 games there. Advantage: Syracuse.

Star attraction
Kansas probably still has nightmares about Trey Burke's taking the game over and leading a huge Sweet 16 comeback for Michigan. Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams is a smooth scorer and a likely first-round draft pick if he comes out –- but he won’t get picked ahead of Burke, the 2012-13 Wooden Award winner. Advantage: Michigan.

Mitch McGary averages less than 20 minutes per game, but the Michigan freshman big man has emerged as one of the best players in the NCAA tournament, averaging 17.5 points and 11.5 rebounds in the Wolverines’ four wins. Syracuse’s James Southerland shoots over 40 percent from three-point range and attempts more than six long-balls per game. Advantage: Michigan.

Style of play
Michigan likes to run but will need to figure out a way to crack Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone when it gets into the halfcourt set. And teams that don’t see it much usually struggle to adapt to it. Advantage: Syracuse.

Syracuse is the fifth winningest Division I program of all-time and holds the active record for consecutive winning seasons with 42. Michigan also has a proud history but didn’t make any NCAA tournament appearances between 1998 and 2009 and was hit hard by NCAA sanctions in the ’90s. Advantage: Syracuse.

Michigan is back in the Final Four exactly 20 years after the Wolverines’ “Fab Five” went to the national championship and lost on Chris Webber’s infamous timeout call. Two of Michigan’s best players –- Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III –- are also the sons of former NBA stars. Syracuse is back in the Final Four exactly 10 years after Carmelo Anthony led the Orange to a national championship. Advantage: Michigan.

Otto the Orange is fun for the whole family. Michigan is one of the few colleges that doesn’t have a mascot after it stopped bringing real wolverines to football games in 1927. Something about safety issues. Pfft. Advantage: Syracuse.

Famous basketball alumni
Michigan’s Glen Rice holds the NCAA record for most points in a single NCAA tournament with 184 in 1989. Syracuse’s Carmelo Anthony is one of the premier players in the NBA. Advantage: Syracuse.

Famous non-basketball alumni
New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin (Syracuse) has gotten the better of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (Michigan) in a couple of Super Bowls. But still. Advantage: Michigan.

Philly connection
By the time Chris Webber (Michigan) got to the 76ers, he was past his prime. For all his critics, Donovan McNabb (Syracuse) was a great Eagle. Advantage: Syracuse.

This is going to be a really fun game between two teams catching fire at the right time. But if Burke and McGary keep doing what they have been doing, nobody is beating the Wolverines. Michigan 79, Syracuse 76.

Fastbreak Friday: Villanova to face pesky Providence Friars

Fastbreak Friday: Villanova to face pesky Providence Friars

CSN anchor/reporter Amy Fadool and producer Sean Kane get you set for all of the weekend's local college basketball games with Fastbreak Friday. Look for this column every Friday during the college basketball season.

Providence (13-7, 3-4 Big East) at No. 1 Villanova (18-1, 6-1 Big East), Saturday at noon

AF: This is a first. In the three seasons that I have been privileged to co-author this column, I've never written about Villanova. Today, that drought ends. Thank you to all who made this possible, which really is just one person: Sean Kane. 

I think one of the reasons that he relinquished his iron grip, just for one week, is that a new, young fan is now on board with this Villanova team and will be attending his first Wildcats game this weekend. When I say that our 2-year-old son is a fan, that may be understating it a little bit. He knows the entire roster, from Josh Hart to Donte DiVincenzo, and every player in between. He knows the fight song, and proudly belts out V for Villanova. Of course, I'm proud of my son. I do wish he could sneak in a few bars of "On, On U of K" or know one other Kentucky player besides Malik Monk. But that's enough of the background of why I finally broke through and am writing about Villanova this week.

The Wildcats returned to the No. 1 ranking this week as they welcome Providence to the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday. The Friars have given Jay Wright's teams fits over the past few seasons. You don't need to look much farther than last year when you check the numbers of a Ben Bentil or Kris Dunn. In fact, in the last three seasons, Villanova has lost one home game, and almost a year ago exactly that loss came courtesy of Providence. On Jan. 24, 2016, Bentil owned the low post and poured in 31 points, while the high-low game was working to perfection because Dunn racked up 14 assists. Of course, neither Dunn nor Bentil are on this year's Providence squad and that is a good thing for 'Nova.

The Friars come into this game on a short, two-game winning streak, but that's bigger than it may seem. Before that, they dropped five of their previous six games, including a heartbreaking one-point loss to DePaul.

Nothing seems to get Providence back on track better than Georgetown, already sweeping the season series with the Hoyas. Ed Cooley's team seems to do this every year — have a lull only to explode in March. The Friars did it three years ago, when Villanova crushed them by 30 in January, only to see Providence steamroll its way through the Big East Tournament. So I'm never ready to count out a Cooley team. 

But Villanova is rolling after its lone loss of the year, falling to Butler on the road after a spectacular performance at Creighton. Sean wrote in this very column last week that the Wildcats needed to get more from their bench, specifically DiVincenzo. No, I don't think Donte reads this (though he should; it's fun!), but it was as if he did. In the decisive victory over Seton Hall this week, DiVincenzo posted 10 points, two rebounds and a monster block in 29 minutes of work, a solid effort off the bench. 

In the game before, at St. John's last weekend, DiVincenzo had starter-like numbers in a two-man bench effort with Eric Paschall. DiVincenzo tallied a career-high 19 points in the win at the Garden. And if the Wildcats are getting numbers near that from him, they should start thinking about a return trip to the Final Four. 

March is all about depth. Hart is going to get his. But you need other players to step up (see: Phil Booth in the title game). DiVincenzo could be that guy for Wright this year. This team certainly looks primed to go far in March. 

The spotlight on the Wells Fargo Center will shine on the Wildcats and another win. 

Villanova 80, Providence 66

La Salle (11-5, 5-1 A-10) at VCU (14-5, 4-2 A-10), Sunday at 2 p.m.

SK: Which city team has the longest winning streak? It's not top-ranked Villanova. The correct answer would be the La Salle Explorers, winners of five straight games and seven of their last nine. The good times kept rolling Thursday night with a 91-83 victory over Davidson at Tom Gola Arena. 

Four different Explorers scored 12 or more points in the win, and the one starter who didn't — junior Demetrius Henry — provided three critical baskets in the closing minutes.

Henry's contributions aside, the night belonged to Jordan Price. The senior guard scored 29 points on 9-of-14 shooting. Price knocked down 4 of 6 three-point attempts and went 7 of 8 from the foul line. The Explorers' leader is hitting his stride, averaging 26 points in the last two games while shooting 72 percent from the field.

La Salle now sets its sights on a Sunday showdown at VCU, which has a 14-5 record under second-year head coach Will Wade. The Rams will be hungry for a win, having dropped back-to-back road games at Davidson and Fordham. Wade has done an admirable job maintaining the success of the VCU program following the departure of Shaka Smart to Texas following the 2014-15 season. The Rams advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament a year ago and have a good shot at making their way into the Field of 68 again this season.

The Explorers shouldn't be fazed by VCU's raucous homecourt advantage. La Salle won in double overtime in its last trip to Richmond against VCU two years ago.

I can honestly see this game going either way, and would be surprised if things weren't decided in the final minutes. But I'm riding the hot hand with the Explorers and Price. La Salle is a confident team right now; look for it to figure out a way to win a sixth straight game on Sunday.

La Salle 81, VCU 78

Pennsylvania (6-8, 0-3 Ivy League) at Saint Joseph's (8-9, 2-4 A-10), Saturday at 7 p.m.

AF: The Quakers are in the midst of a tough stretch. They opened up Ivy League play with rival Princeton two weeks ago, and it started a three-game losing streak — first to the Tigers, then home losses to Yale and Brown. But it's not as if Penn hasn't been in these games. In the loss to Brown, the Quakers cut it to just a two-point deficit with under eight minutes to play, but a great defensive stand by the Bears led to Penn's missing its next seven shots. 

Next up for Steve Donahue, a Big 5 matchup with Saint Joseph's, a team also reeling a bit. 

In its most recent game, a five-point loss at UMass, St. Joe's shot 32 percent, including an abysmal 26 percent in the second half. 

Once again, the Hawks did get a solid effort from James Demery. The junior had a career-high 11 rebounds to go with his team-high 19 points in the loss. One would think that if Phil Martelli keeps getting efforts like that from Demery, the Hawks will break through on a win soon. They are just short-handed with injuries right now.

This game will be played at the Palestra, which contrary to a silly Duke tweet this week, is the greatest home court in college basketball. Fun fact: Penn has enjoyed more success against Saint Joseph’s than any other Big 5 opponent in recent years, with three wins over the last six meetings.

But I don't know if that fun fact continues this weekend. Both teams are playing with a little desperation, and I think that the shooters for the Hawks will step up in this one.

Saint Joseph's 62, Penn 60

Drexel (7-12, 1-5 CAA) at UNC Wilmington (18-2, 7-0 CAA), Sunday at 4 p.m.

SK: To say this is a tall order for Drexel would be an understatement. The Dragons have dropped six of their last seven games, including a 20-point loss at Elon Thursday night. Meanwhile, UNC Wilmington enters Sunday's game with an 18-2 record and a perfect 7-0 mark in CAA play. The Seahawks' two losses this season came at Clemson and against a very good Middle Tennessee State team.

The UNC Wilmington program has enjoyed a remarkable turnaround under third-year head coach Kevin Keatts, who previously served as Rick Pitino's assistant at Louisville. The Seahawks won 25 games and made it to the NCAA Tournament last year, losing a tightly contested game to Duke in the first round. After they established themselves as the class of the CAA once again this season, it would come as a major surprise if they're not back in the Big Dance this March. 

UNC Wilmington has three players averaging 15 points or more — C.J. Bryce (17.5), Chris Flemmings (15.9) and Denzel Ingram (15.5). The Seahawks simply have too much firepower for a Drexel team struggling to find its way under first-year head coach Zach Spiker. For the Dragons' sake, I hope I'm wrong, but I don't see this being much of a contest.

UNC Wilmington 77, Drexel 59

Prediction records
Sean Kane: 18-4
Amy Fadool: 13-7

Delaware avenges 36-point loss with upset of Northeastern

Delaware avenges 36-point loss with upset of Northeastern


NEWARK, Del. -- Freshman Ryan Daly scored 27 points and Delaware avenged its worst loss of the season, upsetting Northeastern 69-62 on Thursday night for the Blue Hens' first Colonial Athletic Association win of the season.

Cazmon Hayes added 13 points and Eric Carter 11 for Delaware (8-12, 1-6), which snapped a six-game losing streak that had included a 36-point loss, 90-54, to the Huskies on Jan. 5.

T.J. Williams scored 28 points, the only Huskies player to reach double figures. Northeastern (12-7, 5-2) lost its second straight after an eight-game winning streak.

Three-pointers by Devonne Pinkard and Daly gave Delaware the lead for good at 46-41 with 11 minutes left. A 14-2 run with eight points each from Carter and Daly made it a 12-point lead with two minutes to go.

Delaware made 17 of 22 free throws to 7 of 14 for Northeastern.