Final Four PREVIEW: Louisville vs. Wichita State

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Louisville & Wichita State are familiar opponents.  Though Saturday’s match-up in the Final Four in Atlanta is going to be like two old neighbors seeing each other for the 1st time in a long while.  The Cards are 19-5 all-time against the Shockers and last played in Wichita during the 1975-76 season when the Shockers took down the Cards 78-74 in Overtime.

You might say that Saturday’s game is revenge 37 years in the making.  That game, coached by Denny Crum and Harry Miller, at the end of February allowed Wichita State to play in the NCAA Tournament AT FREEDOM HALL, while the Cards just missed out on the 32-team Big Dance and went to the NIT.

That game was so long ago, there are no CrumsRevenge, VillenHD, or G6 highlights to embed here.  Even if I wasn’t on limited time, finding game footage would be a chore.  But what matters is NOW.  At the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.  The Cards have an opportunity to win 2-games in the Final Four for the 1st time since 1986.  Louisville has a chance to “Rise for 5″, which all Card fans are asked to do with 6:33 remaining in the first half (time of Kevin Ware’s injury) and place 5 fingers in the air.

This is Rick Pitino’s 7th Final Four.  Pitino won the NCAA Tournament at Kentucky in 1996 and was National Runner-up in 1997.  We will find out soon whether or not Pitino will be elected into the Hall of Fame, but the coach has said that he is not interested in that sort of thing.  That is interested in bring a National Title to Louisville for the community and for his players.  Louisville First.

Pitino’s “re-branding” effort has been a rousing success & lit a new fire under the 60-year old head coach.  The difference the last 3-4 seasons in Pitino is striking & is a big reason why the Louisville program who started two walk-ons during the 2011-12 Final Four run, is back in the Final Four a year later with a legitimate chance to win the crown.  Whether or not the Cards are able to beat Wichita State Saturday night is irrelevant to the job Pitino has done with Louisville basketball.  Two Final Fours in consecutive seasons is sustained high-level basketball, but it would be incredible witness the Cards’ cutting down the nets.

Wichita State & Gregg Marshall DESERVE to be at this spot.  They are having an incredible season, and like Louisville also had a 3-game losing streak.  Honestly, I’m really impressied with their wins over VCU & Creighton. Those are outstanding ball clubs.  The head scratchers are the losses to Southern Illinois & Indiana State.  But Card fans have seen their share of unexplainable losses during the course of a season, particularly in late January & early February.

During their NCAA Tournament run Wichita State easily handled a Pitt team that Louisville struggled with AT HOME (64-61) to beat.  The Shockers beat the #1 seed in the West, Gonzaga 76-70, and then dispatched LaSalle 72-58, before finally doing us all a favor and taking down Ohio State 70-66.

Wichita State has been tough to eliminate from the NCAA Tournament dating back to 2006 when they made a run to the Sweet 16 before falling to George Mason, and last year went down in the opening round to VCU 62-59.  Gregg Marshall has had his share of runs in the tournament as well. This year is his best work to date, but his team easily could have reversed last season’s exit with a few bounces of the ball.  Marshall also beat Notre Dame as a #11 seed in 2007, I’m not ready to crown Gregg Marshall ‘Mr. Glass Slipper’ as that title probably belongs Brad Stevens.

Wichita State will be making their 2nd appearance in the Final Four when they ran into UCLA who beat them in the National Semifinal 108-89 in Portland, OR during the 1965 Final Four.  The UCLA Bruins went on to win their 2nd National Title, also John Wooden’s 2nd title.

Louisville is making their 10th NCAA Final Four appearance. The Cards have won two national titles (1980, 1986).

Team Stat Comparison

Louisville Wichita State
Strength of Schedule 6th 91st
Points Per Game 74.3 (27th) 69.8 (104th)
Avg Scoring Margin +16.2 (4th) +8.9 (28th)
Field Goal % 45.6% (52nd) 44.1% (114th)
Rebound Rate 52.8% (54th) 55.6% (7th)
Blocks Per Game 4.3 (70th) 4.5 (49th)
Steals Per Game 10.9 (2nd) 7.5 (67th)
Assists Per Game 14.6 (37th) 13.6 (105th)
Turnovers Per Game 12.5 (105th) 12.7 (125th)
Team Fouls Per Game 17.9 (198th) 17.9 (198th)
2-point FG% 51.0% (43rd) 49.7% (79th)
3-point FG% 32.8% (218th) 34.0% (157th)
Free Throw % 70.9% (121st) 69.8% (167th)
Opponent Shooting % 39.2% (24th) 39.3% (27th)
Opponent 2-point FG% 43.0% (29th) 43.4% (37th)
Opponent 3-point FG% 31.5% (58th) 32.1% (80th)
Opponent Block Per Game 3.4 (163rd) 3.0 (73rd)
Opponent Steals Per Game 5.7 (53rd) 5.6 (43rd)

Player & Bench Match-Ups

Peyton Siva vs. Malcolm Armstead is going to be a tough match-up.  Siva played perhaps his best game of the tournament against Duke and played inspired basketball.  Armstead is a little bigger than Peyton and shots the 3-pointer a little better, while Peyton is a better passer.  I think Siva & Russ Smith will do a lot of switching on Armstead and I’m interested to see how Malcolm handles the pressure the Cardinals may put on him.

Armstead has really done an amazing job scoring in the NCAA Tournament, and really probably compares closer to Russ Smith as Armstrong is a volume shooter in contrast to Siva who takes mostly controlled shots. Both guys are a threat to drive to the rim, but Malcolm is much more likely to shoot the 3-point shot than Siva. Malcolm has scored 62 points in the NCAA Tournament on 21-59 (35.5%) shooting with 21 rebounds, 15 assists, & 8 steals, and just 9 turnovers.  Siva meanwhile has 36 points on 15-36 (41.6%), 10 rebounds, 20 assists, 8 steals, and 9 turnovers.

Peyton Siva Malcolm Armstead
6-0, 185, Sr. 6-0, 205, Sr.
Minutes 31 28.6
Points 9.9 10.9
Field Goal % 41.30% 40.20%
3-point % 30.40% 35.50%
FT % 86.00% 80.30%
Rebounds 2.3 3.8
Assists 5.8 3.9
Steals 2.2 1.9
Blocks 0.2 0.1
Turnovers 2.7 2.3
Fouls 2.6 2.3

Russ Smith vs. Tekele Cotton is an odd ball match-up.  Russ is more like Malcolm Armstead as a player, while Cotton is really someone who is going to patiently wait for his shot like Peyton Siva. So we’ll see how the coaches match these guys up.  Defensively Cotton tests ball handlers and can really rebound for a 6′ 2” player.  Gregg Marshall rotates their 2-guard position with Cotton & Demetric Williams a lot like Louisville rotates their wings Luke & Wayne. Russ Smith might be small for a 2-guard, but try and stop him. No one has been able to lately.  Russ is a problem for ball handlers and he is also a problem for teams trying to defend him.  Russ can hit jump shots, drive the line and knock down free throws at the line.  He’s a scorer and a very good defender.

Cotton has 30 points (10-21 from the field, 5-10 from 3), 15 rebounds, 7 assists, 8 steals, and just 2 turnovers. Russ Smith on the other hand is the Tournament’s leading scorer with 104 points (33-61 from the field), 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 13 steals, and 10 turnovers.

Russ Smith Tekele Cotton
6-1, 165, Jr. 6-2, 202, Soph.
Minutes 30.1 23.6
Points 18.9 6.4
Field Goal % 42.30% 44.00%
3-point % 33.10% 35.90%
FT % 82.40% 53.70%
Rebounds 3.5 3.9
Assists 2.9 1.7
Steals 2.1 1
Blocks 0.1 0.2
Turnovers 2.6 1.1
Fouls 2.5 2.1

Wayne Blackshear vs. Ron Baker can be a dangerous match-up for the Cards.  Baker missed a lot of time this season due to a stress fracture in his foot returned to action for the Missouri Valley Tournament and has seen his role grow in the NCAA Tournament.  With Baker in the line-up the Shockers are 15-2.  Baker can get hot from beyond the arc and he is also a very good free throw shooter.  Since his return Baker plays most of the game and is a big part of the Shocker’s run.  Wayne Blackshear is going to basically split time with Luke Hancock 50/50 for the game which could help the Cards play really aggressive with Baker.  The key is to play him aggressively but to not send him to the line.  Wayne really has struggled with his fouls of late, but has taken really good shots when he has taken them.

Baker has 44 points (9-21 from the field, 6-15 from 3-point), 16 rebounds, 10 assists, 2 blocks, 3 steals, and 6 turnovers in 4 games during the NCAA Tournament. Blackshear has 27 points (9-18 from the field, 3-10 from 3-point), 14 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block, 6 steals, and 2 turnovers in the first 4 games of the NCAAs.

Wayne Blackshear Ron Baker
6-5, 230, Soph 6-3, 218, Fr.
Minutes 20.4 25.6
Points 7.8 8.6
Field Goal % 42.10% 40.40%
3-point % 31.90% 34.60%
FT % 69.40% 81.40%
Rebounds 3.2 2.9
Assists 0.6 1.9
Steals 0.9 0.8
Blocks 0.3 0.3
Turnovers 0.6 1.3
Fouls 2.5 2.1

Chane Behanan vs. Cleanthony Early won’t be much of an adjustment for Chane Behanan after playing Duke’s Ryan Kelly. Early is an inside/outside guy but isn’t as big as Kelly, but is definitely more mobile.  Early doesn’t handle the ball like Kelly, but is he prone to fouling.  I like Louisville’s match-up here.  Chane really hasn’t be ‘on fire’ statistically but he has played great defense lately and hasn’t been very good at not turning the ball over.  I think the early part of the game plan in the half-court will be a lot like the early game plan against Duke by putting pressure inside on the Wichita State Shockers. Chane has proven to be able to guard this type of “4″ most effectively during his career rather than the bigger ’4s’ who continually post him up.  Still Cleanthony Early is a scorer and he has been on fire, I like the match-up but it is a BIG job for Chane Behanan. Early will also have to deal some with Montrezl Harrell.

Cleanthony Early has scored 57 points (22-46, 6-19 from 3-point range) in the NCAA Tournament for the Shockers, with 28 rebounds, 2 assist, 5 blocks,3 steals, and 5 turnovers. Chane has 28 points, (12-22) with 16 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block, 4 steals, and 5 turnovers.

Chane Behanan Cleanthony Early
6-6, 250, Soph 6-8, 215, Jr.
Minutes 26 24.8
Points 9.6 13.7
Field Goal % 50.50% 45.10%
3-point % 8.30% 31.30%
FT % 52.70% 78.80%
Rebounds 6.3 5.3
Assists 1.1 0.6
Steals 1.4 0.8
Blocks 0.4 0.9
Turnovers 1.6 1.6
Fouls 1.7 2.6

Gorgui Dieng vs. Carl Hall is what I expect.  Sometimes Gregg Marshall elects to go with  7-0 Ehimen Orukpe in the starting line-up, but I think he’ll go with Hall here. Hall can score inside, but I am interested in seeing how he does against a potential 1st round pick in the NBA Draft.  Dieng should be able to patrol the lane against Wichita and come off Hall and trust the rotations.  But you can bet that the Shockers are going to test that part of Louisville’s defense.  Wouldn’t shock me to see Hall as the most productive offensive player because of that.

Hall has 43 points, 19 rebounds, 3 assists, 12 blocks, 2 steals and 9 turnovers.  Dieng has 44 points, 30 rebounds, 4 assists, 10 blocks, 7 steals, 8 turnovers.

Gorgui Dieng Carl Hall
6-11, 245, Jr. 6-8, 238, Sr.
Minutes 30.9 28.6
Points 10.2 12.5
Field Goal % 53.30% 53.80%
3-point % 0.00% 0.00%
FT % 65.20% 67.10%
Rebounds 9.5 6.9
Assists 1.9 0.7
Steals 1.4 0.5
Blocks 2.5 1.8
Turnovers 1.8 1.3
Fouls 2.5 2.4

Cardinals Bench vs. Shockers Bench is a dynamic match-up. Wichita State really doesn’t use the same rotations all the time.  Wichita State doesn’t use a regular rotation at all.  Gregg Marshall really uses a lot of guys, in a lot of different ways depending on the Shocker opponent.  Some players may play 5-6 minutes, 18 minutes, or not at all in different stretches.  So it is kind of hard to get a read on what they might do.

First we know that Wichita wants to Rebound the basketball and Louisville’s front court has depth so I think White, Orukpe, & Lufile will play a lot.  Particularly to give them extra fouls do deal with Siva & Russ in paint.  I don’t think anything inside is going to come easy and I think the Shockers will send the Cards to the line……a lot.

Demetric Williams would be Wichita’s ‘main guy’ off the bench.  Williams could start (think Luke Hancock) easily and brings in a fresh body in the back court to change things up.  He’ll play a lot of minutes.  Outside of him, the rest of the Shocker’s bench are really used like “fireworks”.  ”Firework” players go into the game exert as much energy as humanly possible and have a big explosion.  The key to eliminating this part of Wichita State is to force their bench players to play extended minutes.

Louisville’s bench is about to be real different.  Kevin Ware’s injury really interrupts probably one of the most effective 3-guard rotations Louisville has ever had.  Now Tim Henderson is going to have to steal some minutes.  I like Tim’s game, but he’s been used this season as a guy late in the 1st half to come in, handle the ball, foul, and play defense.  Tim is adequate to play this extended role, but he isn’t Kevin Ware.  Ware’s speed and Defense is going to be sorely missed, and it will be interesting to see if Pitino elects to just keep Russ & Peyton out there longer.  Dark Slime (Michael Baffour) now steps into Henderson’s previous role.  Slime’s on the ball defense is pretty good and he’s good for some fouls if the Cards need them.

The thing to watch is how often Pitino is able to play Russ & Peyton together.  They are a lethal combination and not being able to rotate an equally lethal Kevin Ware defensively might really change this team.  If Wayne Blackshear wasn’t so foul prone I think we might (and maybe we still will) see him slide up to the 2-guard spot.  But Wichita State’s guards might be too fast for that.  Syracuse & Michigan (if the Cards can get there) would be different.

Montrezl Harrell Jake White
6-8, 235, Fr. 6-8, 232, Soph
Minutes 16.5 11.1
Points 5.7 3.6
Field Goal % 56.40% 46.80%
3-point % 0.00% 11.10%
FT % 50.80% 71.40%
Rebounds 3.7 3
Assists 0.2 2.3
Steals 0.5 1.2
Blocks 0.7 0
Turnovers 0.6 1.7
Fouls 1.3 2.2
Luke Hancock Demetric Williams
6-6, 200, Jr. 6-2, 178, Sr.
Minutes 22 25.4
Points 7.4 7.6
Field Goal % 40.80% 38.50%
3-point % 37.20% 28.10%
FT % 77.50% 76.50%
Rebounds 2.6 2.6
Assists 1.3 2.3
Steals 0.9 1.2
Blocks 0.1 0
Turnovers 1 1.7
Fouls 2.1 2.2
Stephan Van Treese Ehimen Orukpe
6-9, 245, Jr. 7-0, 250, Sr.
Minutes 11.5 15.4
Points 1.8 2.7
Field Goal % 65.00% 47.00%
3-point % 0.00% 0.00%
FT % 70.60% 40.50%
Rebounds 3.2 4.4
Assists 0.3 0.2
Steals 0.5 0.3
Blocks 0.3 1.6
Turnovers 0.4 1.3
Fouls 1.2 2
?Tim Henderson? Fred Van Vleet
6-2, 195, Jr. 5-11, 190, Fr.
Minutes 3.5 16
Points 0.6 4.3
Field Goal % 30.00% 39.60%
3-point % 23.50% 42.60%
FT % 0.00% 72.20%
Rebounds 0.4 1.9
Assists 0.1 2.3
Steals 0.2 0.9
Blocks 0 0.1
Turnovers 0.2 1.1
Fouls 0.2 1.1
Nick Wiggins
6-6, 187, Jr.
Minutes 13.1
Points 5
Field Goal % 43.60%
3-point % 42.50%
FT % 73.00%
Rebounds 1.8
Assists 0.3
Steals 0.3
Blocks 0.2
Turnovers 0.6
Fouls 0.8
Chadrack Lufile
6-9, 251, Jr.
Minutes 8
Points 1.6
Field Goal % 55.90%
3-point % 0.00%
FT % 40.00%
Rebounds 1.8
Assists 0.3
Steals 0.2
Blocks 0.3
Turnovers 0.4
Fouls 0.8

My Prediction

Wichita State is DANGEROUS. If you are reading this and don’t know that already from the results in the NCAA Tournament so far, then I can’t help you.  I’ve said here several times that programs, uniforms, recruiting rankings, history, tradition NONE OF THAT plays basketball. Players do. Coaches are a big part of it, but in the end Players play. And that’s all this is.

Louisville has had a major distraction with Kevin Ware’s injury and it is also very disruptive to their guard rotation. Luckily there was a week between Louisville’s Regional Final win against Duke and the Wichita State Final Four match-up.  That should give Louisville time enough to plan, settle, and generally reset before a huge weekend.

Meanwhile Wichita State has also been sitting and watching leading up to their first Final Four appearance since 1965.  I guarantee you that Gregg Marshall has been watching a ton of film on the Cards.  I think in the end Louisville wins this game.  Wichita is a quality team, worthy of a Final Four, but I just think that Louisville has the better team.  Wichita is going to hit the glass, but Louisville has been hyper focused there lately and I don’t think the Shockers have seen a defense quite like the Cards.

However, Louisville MUST stay strong with the basketball in order to win.  Wichita State plays an aggressive style, like Louisville and will foul quite a bit.  But it is by design to disrupt flow and frustrate their opponent.  Louisville should have an advantage inside, but will want to be careful to not get on the back door.  This is a game for Russ Smith.  If there was ever a game designed for him, this was it.  Peyton Siva also needs to take advantage and make his foul shots.  I think the Cards win and play on Monday night for the title.

Louisville 82-Wichita State 71

Final Fours/National Semifinals

1959-Lost to West Virginia 94-79
1972-Lost to UCLA 96-77
1975-Lost to UCLA 75-74 (OT)
1980-Beat Iowa 80-72
1982-Lost to Georgetown 50-46
1983-Lost to Houston 94-81
1986-Beat LSU 88-77
2005-Lost to Illinois 72-57
2012-Lost to Kentucky 69-61
2013-Wichita State 

Thursday Press Conference Transcript

Rick Pitino

THE MODERATOR:  We’re joined by head coach Rick Pitino from Louisville.  Coach will begin with an opening statement and then take questions.
COACH PITINO:  Well, we’re very excited to be part of a Final Four.  For basketball players, it’s the ultimate, the best thing to put on a uniform and play in this type of event, and the second best thing is to be able to help prepare the guys play in this event.
So we’re really excited at Louisville.  It’s been an unbelievable week for both our women’s team and our men’s team both reaching the Final Four.  Very excited for them and very excited for ourselves.
THE MODERATOR:  Questions for Coach Pitino.

Q.  Is it more exciting this week for your son to be named youngest coach in the Big Ten or for you to be in a Final Four?
COACH PITINO:  They’re both exciting.  They’re both very exciting.  Very proud and happy for Richard, coach at Minnesota.  So it’s been a great week in our family.

Q.  Just talk about practices, some of the adjustments that you’re making with Kevin no longer being able to play. 
COACH PITINO:  Well, we don’t have a backcourt substitute.  We had a great rotation.  All three guards were playing well.  Obviously when you press and run as much as we do, it becomes a great concern when you don’t have a substitute.  We substitute every game and give those guys breaks.  Now we can’t change our style of play because we won’t win or have a chance of winning, so now we have to play a walk‑on.  He’s got to do the best job he can do.

Q.  Can you talk about Kevin Ware’s recruitment a little bit?  Did you follow him when he was in New York or just once he got to Georgia? 
COACH PITINO:  I believe he moved to Georgia when he was eight years old, so I definitely didn’t follow him then (laughter).

Q.  (No microphone.)
COACH PITINO:  No, I don’t believe so.  I could be wrong, though.
No, I got on Kevin late in the recruiting process.  Didn’t really follow him that closely during that process.

Q.  You’ve always talked about how perspective has changed for you.  In 2006, you got more joy out of watching Billy Donovan win the national championship than maybe your own national championship 10 years prior.  Now that you’ve been back to this point a couple of times, has the perspective changed in terms of winning another title because you’re here for the second time in as many years?
COACH PITINO:  You know, you always want to win a title.  When you have children, and I do consider Billy like a son to me, you’d much rather see your children go through great things than anything else.
This is a great moment for us because we were there last year and we got a chance to come back.  Last year we had a lot of fun and now the guys are really honed in on winning it.  But it’s going to take a great effort without Kevin to win this thing.  We know that.
I would have said we probably were offensively and defensively one of the better teams in the country.  Now I think we’ve got some problems that we’ve got to overcome in a game to win.  If we can do that, we can win, but we’ve got some problems.

Q.  Coach, the Rutgers practice video, how do you think that will change the coaching profession going forward?
COACH PITINO:  You know, I think, look, we feel bad in the coaching profession for Mike Rice, for the kids that had to go through that, for his family that’s going to have to endure the embarrassment now.
That being said, this is an isolated incident that doesn’t happen in college basketball.  Those things do not happen.  As a pro coach, I would go to every city and go see a college practice.  You know, I’ve seen some coaches that may use rough language.  But that just doesn’t go on.  It’s just an aberration that just doesn’t go on in college basketball.

Q.  Rick, you’ve talked at some point about being able to switch in the middle of an offensive possession your defense from zone to man‑to‑man.  How can you do that seamlessly and how long does it take the players to understand how it works?
COACH PITINO:  It takes a few months.  You get better at it, better at it as it goes along.  Usually by the time February rolls around, they’ve been through enough scouting games, because it does change game to game, predicated on what the other team does.

Q.  Coach, Jim Boeheim gave you your first job.  What were you doing back there in the ’70s?
COACH PITINO:  He didn’t really give me my first job.  Hawaii was my first job.  He gave me‑‑ actually he probably did give me my first job.  I don’t think you consider Hawaii a job.  So I did go to Syracuse from Hawaii, that was a job (laughter).
So your question was?

Q.  What were you doing back there in the ’70s? 
COACH PITINO:  Well, Jim hired me back then because I was working the five‑star basketball camp and had a good connection with all the best high school basketball players from working that camp.  He also wanted to play more man‑to‑man defense.  He was under Roy Danforth, who was strictly zone.  Back then we played a lot of man‑to‑man.  I was fortunate, I got to learn the zone.  So we played probably about 60/40 back then.

Q.  You have a guard in Russ Smith who is tremendous at getting to the basket and finishing.  How do you compare Malcolm Armstead?
COACH PITINO:  I think Malcolm Armstead is one of the best guards in the country.  I think Russ Smith is one of the best guards in the country.  Trey Burke.  Michael Carter‑Williams.  The reason we’re all here is we have great guards.
But he gets in the lane.  He’s very quick.  Got a great hesitation step.  They’ve got a great backcourt, great front court, very deep.

Q.  You’re here in Atlanta, SEC country.  There’s a perception in this part of the country that basketball, SEC is struggling with basketball.  Could you talk on that and whether that perception is real or not?
COACH PITINO:  Well, they’re struggling the last few years.  Back when I was at Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, LSU, were all great.  I think my first LSU basketball game was against Shaquille O’Neal.  Back then, SEC basketball was great.
It’s down.  It’s cyclical.  You know, new coaches take over.  They’ve got to recruit and so on.  But it is a little down the last few years.  But it will change.  Those things are cyclical.

Q.  Rick, you’ve often mentioned Nazr Mohammed as a big project to get him from PointA to PointB.  Where would you say that Russ and Gorgui rank in terms of the way they had to develop?
COACH PITINO:  Well, Nazr was 24% body fat, he had to lose like 80 to 100 pounds.  That was a major project.  Russ and Gorgui didn’t have those things they had to overcome.
Russ was 147 pounds when he first came in.  He really didn’t understand the game very well, even though he played for an awesome high school coach.  Russ was just happy.  He wanted to score 30‑something points a game.  That’s all he cared about.  They were a .500 team in high school.
He had to learn to play the game the right way, then he had to get stronger.  Russ is one of the strongest people on our basketball team right now.  You know, Peyton and Russ had a contest of doing pull‑ups, and Peyton said, You got to wear sand weights on your neck because I have you by 15 pounds.  He put it on.  Peyton did 38 slow pull‑ups.  Russ did 39.  Russ bench presses 185, 18 to 20 times.  So he’s very strong now.  He got physically and mentally stronger.
Gorgui didn’t really understand the game of basketball too well because of the language and terminology.  Physically he came in at 190 pounds to this country, 187 pounds to this country.  He had to get stronger and learn the game.
They both were similar cases, where Nazr, you had to take off a person.

Q.  By no means does Coach Marshall consider his team a Cinderella.  What is it about his approach to this game coming up that you’ve seen that makes them a dangerous team?
COACH PITINO:  I’ll say this without any exaggeration.  They’re the best team we will have faced this year at the defensive end.  They are Marquette on steroids in terms of the way they play defense.
If you grab an offensive rebound, they slap it away.  They don’t let you go into the paint without four guys attacking you.  They are the toughest team to score against.
Listen to what they’ve done in this tournament and who they’ve beaten.  But they haven’t just beaten Pittsburgh, like we did, by 3 points, they beat Pittsburgh by 25 points.  They’re up 20 against Ohio State.  They pound Gonzaga.  They pound LaSalle.  They’re not just winning, they’re pounding teams.
You can’t do that unless you’re a great basketball team, and they are.  They’re ranked in the top 15 for most of the year.  But they are a team that can make a lot of threes.
But I’m really impressed with what they do defensively.

Q.  Russ Smith, a guy who is second in the conference in scoring, usually when you see scorers, it’s kind of at the expense of the team’s success.  What is it about the way you guys play that allows Russ to get his points and for you to get your wins as well?
COACH PITINO:  I think we know what Russ is all about.  The one great thing, he gets to the foul line, shoots at a high percentage.  Russ, when he first came, annoyed a lot of people because of his bad shot selection.  He doesn’t do that anymore.  Now he’s a big‑time winner, plays to win.
The only problem is he needs a sub, he plays so hard.  Peyton needs a sub.  We have to use those TV timeouts, steal 30 seconds here and there, because they’re going to have to play a lot of minutes tomorrow.

Q.  As you said, you worked with Boeheim early in your career, in his career.  What is it about him that makes him unique that he has stayed in one place for so long, and does it surprise you?
COACH PITINO:  Well, I set him up with his wife, and that was the greatest accomplishment that I’ve ever done, if that is true.  How that could happen, I don’t know.
Jim is coaching a long time because he’s extremely frugal.  He’s just a cheap guy that money means everything to him and he’s going to coach till he’s 90 and hoard away every penny he’s ever made (smiling).

Q.  Rick, it’s been an emotional week for you guys, the disappointment on Sunday, then seeing Kevin come back.  How do you keep your guys in check and get them refocused, knowing you have a big game still to play?
COACH PITINO:  You know, I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of a basketball team.  Obviously I was frightened at the moment, what I saw.  Then when I went to the hospital, got the great news that surgery went well, he came back, there was no infection, because that’s what they’re most concerned about for the first 48 hours.  When that was all past, I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of a group of young men the way they acted and cried their brains out for Kevin, and then the way Kevin got them together and the way he reacted.
I don’t think I could be any prouder of young men, the outward emotion of love that they showed each other was, for me, just a great thing as a basketball coach to witness.
Now we are refocused.  Kevin’s with us.  We know we have to play a great team.  We know we have to have a great night to win.

Q.  With Kevin with you, how amazing is it that he was able to travel with you after what you witnessed on Sunday?  Secondly, what is his role this week?  How much of an inspiration can he be to your guys?
COACH PITINO:  I don’t know.  He’s such a celebrity right now, he’s doing David Letterman’s top 10.  I don’t know if he has time for us (laughter).
I think it’s going to be a great motivator for us.  We found out a lot about Kevin that we didn’t know.  We really did.
When he went up, I think he was almost thinking that he was going to fall off the stage or something, and he got up really high, was trying to back off a little bit.  When that happened with him, we all witnessed a different side of Kevin, something we haven’t seen.
It’s just incredible how adversity brings out the best in people.  It certainly brought out the best in Kevin, as well as his teammates.

Q.  I know you called what happened at Rutgers this week an aberration.  But do you think in any way it may cause coaches to reexamine the concept of the practice tape, who has access to it?
COACH PITINO:  I don’t think coaches do that.  I don’t think there’s a coach alive that does that, what you witnessed.  I don’t think you have to worry about that.  I’ve never seen it in my life.  As I’ve said, for eight years I went around and watched college practices.  I’ve seen guys who were very tough on their players, but they don’t physically throw balls at them, they don’t physically do those things.
I think that it’s an isolated incident.  It was a very serious isolated incident.

Q.  Do you remember the Loyola/Cincinnati game that occurred exactly 50 years ago?  If so, what do you remember about watching it?
COACH PITINO:  Was it on TV?

Q.  I think it was. 
COACH PITINO:  You know, I didn’t own a television set until I was like 12.  I don’t know if that’s true or not.  No, back then, when I was a kid, we didn’t watch really college basketball too much.  The only good team back then was St. John’s.  We were all Knicks fans growing up.  It was all professional basketball.  Coach Wooden was going to win it, that was the only thing we knew back then.

Q.  It was the year before UCLA got really good.  Have you had a chance to read anything about it since?  A lot of people think Loyola started four black players that year, and Cincinnati had three and basically started a fourth.  A lot of people wonder if that wasn’t the start of the change in course, where coaches weren’t afraid to play as many black kids as they had. 
COACH PITINO:  I’m old, but probably not old enough to remember that.  And I followed basketball for a long time, but I don’t remember those days, being 10 years old.
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you very much, coach.
COACH PITINO:  Thank you.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

Greg Marshall 

THE MODERATOR:  We’re joined right now by the head coach of Wichita State, Gregg Marshall.  Coach Marshall will begin with an opening statement and then take your questions.
COACH MARSHALL:  First of all, it’s great to be back in Atlanta, Georgia, about two and a half hours from where I was born and raised.  Great to be back with this Shocker basketball team, a team that’s exceeded everyone’s expectations this year and is playing some very good basketball at this point.
We’re excited about the opportunity to play Louisville, the No.1 seed in the entire tournament.
THE MODERATOR:  Questions for Coach Marshall.

Q.  What, if anything, do you still apply from your days as an assistant at Charleston and also your thoughts on the Rutgers situation, please?
COACH MARSHALL:  John Kresse is one of my mentors.  In fact, he will be here tomorrow, be sitting in our section near my wife.  Stay in touch with him.  In fact, I’ve got him looking at a little Louisville tape right now to give me a few pointers.
He’s a big part of the reason that I’m a coach with any degree of success, much less at this point.  We run a very similar style to the one I learned from him in my eight years sitting next to him at the College of Charleston.  Having moved over those 18 inches into the head coaching chair at Winthrop, it was amazing how much I drew on that experience from Coach Kresse.
He was my CoachK.  He remains my CoachK.  He’s a dynamic coach.  All of his career, but in the late ’80s, NAIA tournament, winning that, arguably as successful as anyone’s ever done it.  Just learning from him was incredible, a great experience.
With Coach Rice, I feel bad for Mike.  I hope that he can get straight and figure out what he needs to do going forward, and gets another opportunity.
I feel really bad for those young men.  I hope it didn’t impact any of them negatively to the point where they weren’t able to be good basketball players and finish their careers.
There’s obviously a line that was crossed.  Unfortunately there’s a lot of people that will suffer now, including Rutgers University and the state of New Jersey.
I’m hopeful that everyone can come out of it in a positive way somehow.  That’s it, that everyone can come out of this in a positive way.

Q.  This is going to be a matchup of guards.  Every time you play Louisville, you need ball handlers out there.  Talk to me about the role of Cleanthony and Carl Hall for you and what role are they going to play in this matchup?
COACH MARSHALL:  You’re exactly right, they’re going to need to be the beneficiaries of some hopeful easy opportunities to score after our guards are able to beat the pressure.  They’re going to have to come up and help relieve pressure as outlets.
We can’t play with five guards, because then you’re not going to be able to get a rebound.  We’re going to need all the available hands on deck to take care of the basketball, be strong with it, organize and attack Louisville’s pressure in an intelligent and sound way.
If you have opportunity basketball, then you got to deal with the hand you’ve been dealt.  If you don’t have opportunity basketball, we need to try to set something up and flow right into a motion offense.

Q.  When we get to talk to you, it’s normally maybe once or twice a week.  What has this process been like for you and the guys, the constant attention?
COACH MARSHALL:  Well, we just know this is part of it.  If I have to make that trade to do constant media attention, national radio, TV to get to this point every year, I’ll make that trade.
It is grueling.  It’s different.  But that’s part of the job.  And our job as basketball folks at this point in a season is to reflect positively back on our university and our community and the state of Kansas.  I hope that we’re doing that.  I hope the applications are rising in Wichita State University and the interest in our great university is just exploding.
So that’s what we can do being the front porch to a university.

Q.  Gregg, the pregame and postgame speeches are on CBS.  How do you prepare for those?  Are they off the cuff?  Do you run them by an assistant coach?  How do you come up with some of the phrases you use?
COACH MARSHALL:  I don’t have any writers.  Maybe we can work on that next year.  Producers, directors.  I just kind of go with what’s in my heart.  I really don’t give it a whole lot of thought because there’s so many other things that we need to get accomplished in a day.
But as the team is out warming up, whatever is our keys to the game, whatever I think is important for our team to know, other than play angry and are you satisfied, which they’ve worked pretty well to this point, we write it down and then I let my natural personality come forth.

Q.  You have guys from a lot of different backgrounds, different paths to get to Wichita State.  Are there common characteristics or threads that you look for in all these different guys?
COACH MARSHALL:  I think so.  We want winners.  We want guys that really want to win, that want to commit to something bigger than themselves.  We want guys that are tough and athletic so they can defend and rebound at a high level.  And ultimately some guys that can put the ball in the basket.
I think we have a great blend of those guys.  But the biggest thing we have are character kids.  We really have high‑character young men in our program because they buy into the whole.  They’re not interested in individual stats.
But at this point they’re all being interviewed.  They’re all getting sized for Final Four rings.  They’re all getting new Nike gear sent to them by the droves.  It’s just a great experience.
What we’ve been teaching to the victor go the spoils, and when we win, everybody gets a piece of it, can never be more true than right now.

Q.  Missouri Valley has been a very competitive league for a long time.  How much do you think it helps to get to a Final Four, to have a team here?
COACH MARSHALL:  I think it helps us tremendously.  I think it was ’79, Larry Bird was the last Valley team to make it.  I think Penn was in it the same year, ’79.  They were the last 9 seed to make it.  Doug Elgin told me he was either O‑8 or O‑9 in Sweet 16 games in the past 16 years or so.  Now we’re able to not only get to the Elite 8, but to the Final Four.
There’s more money coming into the league.  Shares of NCAA tournament money.  There’s more exposure for the league.  Ultimately it could help recruiting league‑wide.
I just think in many ways it helps not only us, but the conference.

Q.  We all know how effective Russ Smith is getting to the basket.  Can you talk about Malcolm’s ability to do the same thing.  Secondly, can you discuss the guard matchups tomorrow, how you might play them defensively. 
COACH MARSHALL:  Russ Smith is like a contortionist with his body.  He’s incredible how he can get in and change angles and get to the foul line and finish.  Walking past him today as we were leaving the floor, they were coming out, I didn’t recognize him, but he’s just a little guy.  I mean, he is so incredibly talented for his build.
For those of you who are familiar with our recruiting, we signed a young man from North Carolina who’s very similar to Russ Smith in stature.  Ri’an Holland.  That’s kind of a good comparison physically.  I hope Ri’an can play like him.  We really are excited about Ri’an.  But that’s lofty expectations.
Russ is tremendous in his ability to score the ball on the bounce.  Malcolm is a little different.  Malcolm is more of a mini train, if you will.  He’s stronger, stockier, thicker, not quite as shifty.  Can do the things with his body the way Russ can, but he can bully a littler guard a little bit.
I’m not saying he’s going to bully Russ Smith or Peyton Siva, but he has tremendous strength in his hands, thighs, lower body.  That’s how he gets to the rim.
Matchups, I can’t divulge that.  That’s state secret (smiling).

Q.  Can you reflect a little bit on your Winthrop days, how that helped propel you to this moment.  Also, how are you a different coach today than when you first got that job in your 30s? 
COACH MARSHALL:  Well, when I interviewed at the Final Four in San Antonio in 1998, I didn’t think I had much of a shot.  I left the College of Charleston in ’96.  Two years at Marshall University, working for Greg White.  So it’s the spring of ’98.  I waited a month before calling Coach Kresse.  I said, Dan Kenney was relieved of his duties at Winthrop.  What do you think of that job?
Coach Kresse bent over backwards at that point to tell me he thought I would be perfect for the job.  His words were, Gregg, I would walk to Rock Hill right now to help you get that job and I would tell them that you’re the perfect candidate.
So I had his blessing.  Greg White, I had his blessing.  So between the two of them, they kind of double‑teamed Tom Hickman.
I interviewed.  I don’t know why they gave me the job.  But I remember telling them my College of Charleston experience, I was not the architect, but I was the foreman, and I carried some bricks, I slung some mortar, and I could steel the blueprint.  They fell for it.
Nine years later, seven NCAA tournaments, it was a bit of a run.  I was a little bit younger then, a little bit wilder, if you will.  I kind of refer to Cleanthony Early like an electric cord that’s been severed and sparks are coming out of it, flying all over the room.  That’s how I was when I got my head job.
It was perfect for Winthrop.  We had a beautiful 6100‑seat arena.  We probably had 500 fans at the first game I coached.  You could hear every voice, every sneaker squeak, you could hear.  I needed to infuse some energy into that program and energy into my team.  We were able to do that.
But you mellow as you get older, not to the point where I’m sedated, but I’m still a lot calmer than I was at that point, and hopefully wiser.

Q.  Fred Van Vleet has come of age the last couple games.  How vital is it to have he and Malcolm potentially together at times on Saturday to offset Louisville’s pressure?
COACH MARSHALL:  You nailed it.  Fred is going to play a lot with Malcolm because we need the ball handlers, we talked about that.  My college coach, Hal Nunnally, at Macon, I was a former point guard in high school.  College level I played the small forward, at 6’2″ and a half, 175 pounds.  His belief was you can never have enough point guards on the floor because generally they can bounce it, they can pass it, they know the offense, they know how to play.  That’s what you expect from point guards.
I’ve carried that belief to all of my assistant coaching jobs, head coaching jobs.  You better have three point guards, because if one goes down, you need two in every game, because you need a backup.
And Fred has proven that he’s able to go in there, play valuable minutes.  He’s hit big shots for us.  The three he hit against Gonzaga in the last minute.  The runner in the lane he hit to give us the six‑point lead with under a minute to go against Ohio State, that’s a true freshman making big plays.
He and Malcolm will play a lot together.  Demetric Williams had a great practice today.  He’ll get some time.  We need as many ball handlers as we can.
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you very much, coach.
COACH MARSHALL:  Thank you.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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About Mark Blankenbaker

Follow me: @UofLSheriff50 Born in Louisville, Male High School Graduate, UofL Business School Graduate, I've seen and done quite a bit and I'm passionate about sports particularly the University of Louisville and its rivalry with Kentucky. I have more friends that are UK fans than I do UofL fans, some say that's because I like to argue, or to be different. When it comes down to it I love my Cards, but I'll give praise and criticism to anyone who is deserving. I'm not typically someone who is going to write a 3-sentence post that everyone one else saw on Twitter just to get fresh content on the site. I try and do informative and thorough articles and sometimes that takes a little longer, Follow us on Twitter @CardsandCatscom and Like Us on Facebook to keep up with the latest from us. We also have a YouTube Channel full of coach & player interviews and highlight films.