Editor's note: Before heading to Atlanta, Eamonn Brennan and Myron Medcalf met at the watercooler to discuss both of Saturday's Final Four matchups.
Eamonn: Myron! Get your Buck Owens vinyl out of storage, because we are together again. My lonely nights are now at an end. And we are on the cusp of the culmination of the 2012-13 season, this weekend's Final Four in Atlanta, and I really can't believe that's the case. Did I black out, or did we time-travel from October to today? It's got to be one of the two.
The Watercooler fam is back together once more, and our first item of business is hashing out the left side of the bracket: No. 1-seed Louisville vs. No. 9 Wichita State. I was in the building Sunday night for the Cardinals' remarkable second-half throttling of Duke, one invested with a palpable sense of purpose and energy -- even in the crowd -- and I have to admit, after seeing that, it is very difficult for me to imagine Louisville losing focus long enough to let the Shockers pull an upset.
This is a very popular opinion, and I'm guessing you probably share it. But play devil's advocate with me. You were in L.A. You've formed the argument in a column already. Why can Wichita State win this thing?
Myron: Eamonn and Myron together again. Watercooler. I like the sound of that. No idea where the season went. Seems like yesterday we were just talking about basketball on aircraft carriers. ... But Atlanta is here. Final Four. Wow. Can't wait. I'm with you on Louisville, though. The Cardinals are clearly dangerous. That win against Duke was so impressive. Louisville is as close to great as any team in the field. .... But I also think Wichita State is legit. Here's the first thing. The Shockers have a bunch of players who could play for high-major programs right now. Carl Hall, Malcolm Armstead and Cleanthony Early all starred at the junior college level, and there's no doubt those guys could play big roles for most Big Six teams today.
So Wichita State is talented enough to defeat the Cards. The talent gap isn't as wide as their respective conference affiliations suggest. Also, the Shockers are frustrating everybody with their defense. Teams can't score outside. Their tourney opponents have shot about 28 percent from the 3-point line. Hall is swatting shots like Dikembe Mutombo inside. And on offense, Armstead is a proven leader. He's out of control sometimes, but he's very aggressive. They get buckets and they can pounce on teams (see fast starts against La Salle and Ohio State). The final factor is the team's experience. These guys are true veterans. They won't panic against the Cardinals.
But we've heard that before, Eamonn. Everybody has a plan for Louisville until they're on the same floor with Louisville. This team hasn't lost a game since early February. How do you beat the Cardinals?
Eamonn: Yeah, I mean ... I don't know. I can give you reasons the Cards can lose. For instance, they create a ton of their offense off turnovers and defensive pressure, and if they meet a team or a specific player (cough, Trey Burke, cough) that could maintain the ball well enough to erase that part of their game, they might start to look a little bit more average. They aren't a great shooting team, so if you can keep them out of the paint and get them to put it up from deep, and you rebound really well, and the turnover thing ... you can see where I'm going with this.
There is no margin for error; all it takes is a possession or two to speed the game up and get you out of sync, and then they're running at you and finishing layups and you're done. The Cardinals put you in a blender, and when they dictate the terms of the game, which is almost always, they're very difficult to beat.
Myron: But that's why I think Wichita State might have a chance. That furious Ohio State comeback on Saturday would have rocked most teams. I mean, you're up 20 and then minutes later, you're only up by a few. The Shockers had to fight for that win. They had to make plays against a team that hadn't lost since mid-February. That's the story of their season: You face adversity. You respond to it. Louisville has obviously gone through its own adversity. The Kevin Ware situation alone proved that this squad is as mentally tough as any team in the country. But I don't think Wichita State is intimidated by anything the Cardinals will throw at them. It's hard to find many reasons for an upset on paper. But if swagger is a factor, then WSU certainly has a chance, right?
Eamonn: Oh, absolutely. A couple of coaches I asked to help me with a scouting report said the same thing about Wichita State: The Shockers always believe they're the best team on the floor. They play to a sold-out show every night in Wichita, they don't see themselves as underdogs (and rightly so; George Mason this is not) or a second-tier program, and they exude that sort of overall confidence whenever they take the court. I think that was especially apparent against Ohio State, when nothing seemed to faze them.
They should be able to compete with the Cardinals on the glass; the Shockers' greatest strength is their rebounding (thank you, Carl Hall). The question is whether they can handle that Louisville defensive pressure, both in the full and half court, possession by possession over 40 minutes, without making a few key errors that tilt the balance.
On Sunday night I heard a couple of Louisville fans walking out of the arena and one said: "Well, we got to get to the title game now, right?" His buddy replied: "Bet you that's what the Buckeyes said, too." That's exactly what the Buckeyes said, and we know how that worked out. Underestimate Gregg Marshall & Co. at your own peril.
Myron: Yep, this is a bad year for assumptions. The fact that we have just one No. 1 seed in Atlanta proves as much. ... So we agree that Louisville should win it, Eamonn. But Wichita State can. Man, I can't wait to see what happens.
Eamonn: As you are fond of saying, my friend: Get that popcorn ready.