NCAA Final Four preview: Tale of the tape

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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.

Coaches
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.

X-Factor
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.

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

Karma
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.

Mascot
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.

Prediction
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.

Coaches
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.

X-Factor
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.

Aura
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.

Karma
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.

Mascot
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.

Prediction
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.

Penn State blasted at home by red-hot George Mason

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Penn State blasted at home by red-hot George Mason

BOX SCORE

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The cheers reverberating from George Mason's locker room came from players experiencing their hottest streak in years. The quiet from Penn State's mirrored the whimper of the Nittany Lions in the second half as their run was snapped.

Marquise Moore scored 25 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, Otis Livingston added 18 points and the Patriots beat Penn State 85-66 for their sixth straight win and best stretch since 2011-12 on Wednesday.

"It was a great win for our team, really proud of our guys," George Mason coach Dave Paulsen said. "We really, really competed with toughness in the second half, especially I think our second-half defense was really good."

Jalen Jenkins added 15 points for the Patriots (7-3) who snapped Penn State's four-game winning streak.

Penn State led 38-37 after a wild first half that featured 12 lead changes. But the Raiders took control starting with Livingston's 3-pointer that made it 42-40 early in the second. They dominated from there, leading for the remaining 18:58 and outrebounded the Nittany Lions 44-29, outscored them 44-16 in the paint and held a speedy Penn State team to just two fastbreak points.

"We looked young tonight for whatever reason," Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. "We have to figure that out. We have to play much harder."

Payton Banks led Penn State (6-4) with 21 points. Shep Garner and Lamar Stevens chipped in 13 apiece for the Nittany Lions.

The big picture
George Mason: The Patriots are on a roll and keeping pace in a competitive Atlantic 10 conference that had five teams with six wins entering the night. They seem to have flipped a switch following a 93-65 loss to Houston on Nov. 21 and haven't lost since.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions had been winning despite deficiencies in a few areas while making up for them in others over the last four games. They weren't able to make up for their lack of production in the paint, however.

Guards on the glass
Paulsen was wary of the size advantage Penn State's forwards had heading in. The Patriots didn't start anyone over 6-foot-7 while Penn State boasted a trio of forwards at or taller than that. Paulsen was particularly concerned about 6-foot-9 Mike Watkins who was fresh off his best game where he blocked 12 shots against Wright State.

But the George Mason coach had faith in his guards' ability to attack the net and win those rebounds. Moore entered the game as the country's top rebounding guard with 10 per game and posted his sixth double-double of the season.

"We have some pretty good rebounding guards," Paulsen said. "So you can't do it unless you have really active, rebounding guards."

Veteran responsibility
Penn State's gotten big time contributions from a handful of freshmen and started three as usual. But it was one of the veterans who shouldered blame afterward.

Banks was dejected after the game and pointed the finger at himself. Despite leading the team in points, he wasn't able to help on the glass.

"A lot of it just starts with me right here," Banks said. "I had zero rebounds. We can't rely on Lamar (Miller) and Mike for the scoring load and Julian (Moore). Our guards have to rebound and that's what we lacked this game and it definitely showed on the scoreboard."

Up next
George Mason plays at Penn on Saturday and has three of their final five games in 2016 at home.

Penn State plays Pittsburgh in Newark, New Jersey, on Saturday and has another on the road before closing out 2016 with a pair of games at home, including the Big Ten opener on Dec. 27.

Instant Replay: George Washington 66, Temple 63

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Instant Replay: George Washington 66, Temple 63

BOX SCORE

With one second on the shot clock, George Washington forward Tyler Cavanaugh let a three-point shot fly from the corner right in front of his bench.

Cavanaugh’s shot hit the bottom of the net to give the Colonials a three-point lead with 8.2 seconds left. Moments later, Temple redshirt senior swingman Daniel Dingle’s open look at a game-tying shot hit off the back of the rim, and George Washington handed the Owls a 66-63 loss on Wednesday at the Liacouras Center.

Temple (6-3) came into the game on a five-game winning streak but looked sluggish from the start. The Owls scored just five points in the game’s first six minutes, 34 seconds.

Temple went into halftime down, 31-25, and trailed George Washington (6-4) by as many as 15 points in the second half. Senior guard Josh Brown hit two threes late in the second half to bring Temple within six. Dingle hit two more to tie the game at 61-61 with 2:44 left. 

Two Cavanaugh free throws followed by a jumper from Temple sophomore guard Shizz Alston Jr. then tied the game at 63-63 with 39.1 seconds left.

The Owls played the game’s final moments without junior forward Obi Enechionyia, who fouled out with 3:41 left.

Enechionyia cooling off
Enechionyia was held in check for the second game in a row. He scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds but made only one basket in the second half.

The junior went 5 of 17 for 12 points against Penn on Saturday. He scored 20-plus points in five of Temple’s first seven games.

Inside the box score
• Colonials guard Jordan Roland came into the game averaging 4.3 points per game. Roland scored 14 points on Wednesday.

• Brown, who played his first game of the season last Wednesday against St. Joe’s, played a season-high 24 minutes. He played a combined 25 minutes in his first two contests.

• George Washington outrebounded Temple, 37-23. The Colonials had 18 turnovers compared to nine for Temple.

Up next
Temple plays DePaul in the Miami Hoophall Invitational on Saturday at 11:30 a.m.