<
>

Writer roundtable: Final Four picks

ATLANTA -- After nearly a week of talk, the games are drawing ever closer. Before Saturday night's tipoff, seven of our writers take one last shot at predictions.

Louisville-Wichita State: Who wins and why?

Eamonn Brennan: Louisville. As much as I'd like to pick the upset, it's just impossible to pick against these Cardinals right now. Even if Wichita State plays its best possible game and gets buckets in transition after breaking the press, the Shockers need to do that for the entire 40 minutes with zero slipups to hold on and make it a close game late.

John Gasaway: Louisville wins because the Cardinals are the best team in the country. What Russ Smith and Peyton Siva did to a previously very good Duke defense was just the latest refinement from a dominant team that hasn't lost a game in almost two months. I remember when the worry about this group was its offense, but Rick Pitino's guards carved up the Blue Devils with dribble penetration. I don't suppose the Cards will find Carl Hall quite that welcoming in the paint, but I also don't expect Malcolm Armstead and Cleanthony Early to have their best games on offense against Gorgui Dieng and company. Louisville has a job to do in Atlanta, and they'll still be working come Monday.

Andy Katz: Louisville. Wichita State has been counted out in nearly every round. But Louisville's defense is too stifling at times. This isn't about the emotional tidal wave of losing Kevin Ware to an injury. This is about a team that has swallowed up the competition in the second half for most of the season. Wichita State can win but everything will have to go right -- on the boards, along the 3-point line and in handling the ball. I don't think it will.

Jason King: I picked the Cardinals to win the NCAA title in the preseason and stuck with them all year long, so I'm definitely not changing my opinion now. Louisville is the deepest and most-talented team in the NCAA tournament -- and also the hungriest. Rick Pitino's squad made the Final Four last year and has been itching to get back ever since. The biggest question surrounding Louisville is its mental state following last week's injury to Kevin Ware. Will the Cardinals use the situation as a rallying point? Or will Ware's absence interrupt Louisville's chemistry and cohesion on the court? Then there's Wichita State, which has done a phenomenal job of staying even-keeled throughout the NCAA tournament. The Shockers haven't let the attention that's come with advancing to each round overwhelm. The Final Four, though, is a whole different stage. Louisville has been here before. Wichita State hasn't [since 1965]. If the Shockers lose focus for even a minute, Louisville will run away with this game.

Myron Medcalf: Louisville will win this one. I know Wichita State is a quality team. But I'd pick the Cardinals over any squad in Atlanta. The Shockers have never faced the level of defensive pressure that they'll see on Saturday. The Cards pounce on teams in ways that no other team in America can. And they'll attack Wichita State with that aggressive defense early. In their past 14 games, 14 opponents have succumbed to that relentlessness. And as good as the Shockers have played thus far, they'll eventually crumble against that defense, too. It's overwhelming.

Dana O'Neil: Louisville wins, but maybe not so easily. The Cardinals have blown through this NCAA tournament with relative ease, but without Kevin Ware, I don't think this will be a walkover. Wichita State is too good defensively, especially in the lane, and that could slow down Louisville. Still, the Cardinals advance to the national championship game because while the Shockers are good defensively, no one is as good or quite like Louisville. Russ Smith and Peyton Siva know they can't commit foolish fouls without Ware and I think the two, who are on a mission, will play smart to make sure the Cards get a shot at the title.

Robbi Pickeral: The Cardinals. As much as I heart WuShock, WSU's giant-shock-of-wheat mascot, and am impressed by the Shockers' "Play Angry" defense and don't-call-us-Cinderella intensity, Louisville's defensive pressure is going to be tough for anyone to survive. If Wichita State's D is mad, the Cardinals' is downright furious, what with the way they use pressure to turn turnovers into points … over and over and over again.

Michigan-Syracuse: Who wins and why?

Eamonn Brennan: The Orange have taken their patented 2-3 zone to the next level in this tournament, allowing a mind-blowing 0.72 points per possession in four tournament games. Michigan has played its typically excellent offense with some much better defense, and I think that's the difference here -- the Wolverines make a few 3s and get a few stops and hold on to a super-tight game down the stretch.

John Gasaway: Syracuse wins, but it's going to be close. Jim Boeheim's team has benefited from the 15 percent 3-point shooting recorded by tournament opponents, and I'll go way out on a limb and say that Nik Stauskas, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke will be able do better than that. I also expect Mitch McGary will find plenty of opportunities for offensive rebounds and putbacks against this D, which, even during its current incredible run, is still just average on the defensive glass. But if there's one thing we know about Syracuse, it's that the Orange can dominate a top-flight Big Ten opponent with an outstanding offense. Ask Indiana. Every tournament opponent has talked confidently about facing the zone and then looked terrible when actually facing it. The Wolverines will look better than most, but not quite good enough to win.

Andy Katz: Syracuse. Michigan has the one player who could solve the zone in Trey Burke. But he needs help and players who can make the shots the Wolverines probably will get. The bigger problem for Michigan may end up being how the Wolverines defend Michael Carter-Williams or more so the most difficult matchup on the wing in C.J. Fair. This actually may be a case where Syracuse's offense wins the game.

Jason King: Michigan. The Wolverines have been the most impressive team in the NCAA tournament thus far. Their overtime victory against Kansas in the Sweet 16 -- Michigan rallied from a 14-point deficit -- gave them a jolt of momentum and confidence during their 20-point annihilation of Florida two nights later. They'll carry that into the Final Four. Point guard Trey Burke is the national player of the year, but the emergence of 6-foot-10, 255-pound forward Mitch McGary has made the biggest difference for Michigan this postseason. McGary, a freshman, is averaging 17.5 points and 11.3 rebounds during the NCAA tournament. He'll be a load in the paint for Syracuse, which has surpassed expectations by getting to this point. I know John Beilein is 0-9 all-time against Jim Boeheim, but he'll find a way to win this one. Michigan simply has better players.

Myron Medcalf: I'll go with Michigan in this one. Syracuse's 2-3 zone has been essentially impenetrable throughout the tournament. Marquette finished with 12 field goals against Syracuse last weekend. Twelve. But Michigan has the attributes of a team that can crack that zone. And John Beilein's squad has already deciphered two of the toughest defenses in America (Kansas and Florida). Trey Burke is a special player with unique playmaking ability. He's surrounded by shooters. Plus, the Wolverines have the nation's best turnover rate. So, they have the best player in America, one of the strongest supporting casts in the country and they don't commit many turnovers. Their defense has improved, too. Michigan will get the victory in Atlanta and advance to Monday's title game.

Dana O'Neil: I'll be honest, this is a more difficult pick for me but in the end, I think the experience and the zone of Syracuse wins. Michigan is terrifically talented and has been so impressive, but solving the Orange zone with young players on a huge stage is an awfully big chore. The caveat in the pick: Syracuse has to be able to score. As good as the Orange's defense has been this season, the offense has struggled to keep up. Regardless of the zone, Michigan will score points, so Syracuse has to keep up. How Michael Carter-Williams plays will be critical.

Robbi Pickeral: The Wolverines. Guard Trey Burke made me a believer last weekend when he led his team on that late-game double-digit rally against Kansas. And if there's anyone left who can slice up the Orange's 2-3 zone, it's him (and his teammates). Not only is Michigan good at taking care of the ball (a nation-low 9.4 turnovers per game), it ranks 18th in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage (38.5 percent) -- two keys to finding some air in Syracuse's suffocating approach.