Posted: 3:50 p.m. Tuesday, March 19, 2013
By Nicolas Lewis
This is an interesting matchup. Wichita State was probably a better team than Creighton... all the way up until the Missouri Valley Conference championship game. They face a Pittsburgh squad that has been up and down all season, but just needs to get hot at the right time to be very dangerous for any team they face - kind of like the Shockers.
Credentials: The Shockers are a strong rebounding team that knocked off VCU and Southern Miss in nonconference play, as well as Creighton the first time they played them. This is also a team that went 5-5 in games decided by five points or fewer, one of which was a two point road loss to Southern Illinois (#209 in the MRI) that capped a three game losing streak. It would also be nice if Carl Hall and Tekele Cotton (and sometimes Cleanthony Early) could make some free throws to compliment all their other strengths
Talent: Hall went from sixth man to team leader with little apparent difficulty, handling his teammates all season despite missing time with a broken thumb. Early benefited from some military training to actually be In The Best Shape Of His Life, and has been a weapon as either a starter or a sixth man - which is very important, since freshman Ron Baker is back from a stress fracture in his foot, just in time to average 10 points and three rebounds in only 18 minutes on a per-game basis in the conference tournament.
Credentials: This is nothing new for Pittsburgh; the Panthers got a lot of false credit for a 12-1 non-conference record that saw them lose to the only Top 60 RPI team they played (Michigan). Overall, the Panthers were only 4-7 against the RPI top 50 on the season. They were able to beat Georgetown on the road, but couldn't quite handle Louisville or Syracuse (the second time). They shoot the ball very well from the field, but outside of their guards, are a miserable wreck from the free throw line.
Talent: The Panthers have perhaps more than they need in this area. Senior point guard Tray Woodall is an incredibly smart player who knows how to make the team run, and just needs his teammates to buy in. Steven Adams and Talib Zanna give the Panthers relatively raw but very gifted size on the inside,
Bottom line: The Panthers are one of few teams with a very tight, ten man rotation that they've used all season. They are the best rebounding team the Shockers have faced all season, and Wichita will need to be aggressive down low to combat Zanna and Adams' size advantage. That's probably a good thing if it can mean making those two earn their points at the free throw line, but the (small) difference between Woodall and Malcolm Armstead talent-wise will likely be the difference in this game.
Pittsburgh 78, Wichita State 74