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Deng, Smith Jr. lifting Louisville past everyone

In order to overcome the Final Four odds, Wichita State will need to beat Louisville or keep this game close. Neither of those tasks are easy despite a double-digit handicap for the tournament favored Cardinal. The Shockers have dropped the Big Ten Champion Ohio State Buckeyes and the top ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs en route to the school’s first Final Four appearance.
 
While the hype around Wichita State is well founded, it’s hard to back them as underdogs when you dig a little deeper.
 
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Louisville opened the NCAA tournament as the favorite to win. They have not only continued to play at the highest level possible, they’re the only top-three seed in any regional to make this far. When we’re talking about college basketball at this point, it’s Louisville and then everybody else. Now that they have extra incentive to play, Louisville is more dangerous than ever.
 
Kevin Ware was an important bench player for the Cardinal, but he averaged just 3.5 points per game before breaking his leg against Duke. It was an absolutely terrible injury but Ware might have a bigger impact now that he’s sidelined. Separated by just three points at the half, The Cardinal responded to losing their teammate by running Duke out of the tournament in the next twenty minutes with a final score of 85-63. It’s obvious that Ware means a lot to his teammates, and they’ll be motivated to play for him while he recovers from an injury that may alter his life completely.
 
While Ware is the main headline in Louisville, Russ Smith continues to be the real superstar on the team. He’s averaged an eye popping 26.0 points per game throughout the tournament after averaging 18.6 during the regular season. Smith’s ability to break to the basket, exploit mismatches and seemingly score at will give Louisville an edge that very few teams have.
 
Smith seems to have an unlimited set of gears when he’s racing down the floor, and truly that’s representative of his team overall. When it matters most, the Louisville Cardinal raise their level of play to a plateau that no other team has been able to reach. Their 14 game winning streak, where they’ve gone 11-3 ATS and picked up the Big East Championship, are proof that Louisville is heads and shoulders above the competition.
 
No. 9 Wichita State Shockers (30-8) vs. No. 1 Louisville Cardinal (33-5)
Saturday, April 6th --- Georgia Dome, Atlanta ---  (CBS, 6:09 p.m. ET)
Final Four Odds: Louisville Cardinal -10.5
 
Playing at break neck speeds isn’t unique to the Cardinal, but what makes them so deadly is their ability to get stops on the other end. Credit Gorgui Deng with their remarkable defensive production. Deng has been a force of nature underneath. His averages of 11.0 points per game, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks don’t stand out in a massive way. Instead, Deng’s ability to challenge shots and break up passes to the interior have allowed Louisville to be nothing short of a defensive stalwart as a team.
 
The Cardinal held opponents to an average of 56.3 points per game in the tournament, while creating an average point differential of +18.7 points in their last eight games which have all been tournament style matchups. Louisville is a strong 8-1 ATS in their last 9 games when playing in the NCAA Tournament, and are also 7-3 ATS in their last 10 games against non-conference opponents.
 
To put things simply, when games matter, Louisville comes through. They’ve manhandled opponents by shutting them down on the defensive end, while playing at a frantic pace offensively.
 
That’s really why I’m not spending a whole lot of time talking about Wichita State. Their remarkable Cinderella run will naturally give them amazing betting metrics. They’re 4-0 SU and ATS in their last 4 games, 5-0 ATS in non-conference games and a pretty strong 6-2-1 ATS when playing the Big East.
 
I think what they’ve done has been remarkable. They’re a physical rebounding team, and people seem to be under the impression that they’ve hit more three pointers than they usually do. Over the course of the season they averaged 8.2 threes made in 31 games. In the last four tournament matchups they’ve averaged 7.6 successful attempts from range. Their shooting proficiency hasn’t been any more – or less – than usual.
 
The Shockers shouldn’t be completely discounted as a threat. They have bangers like Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall who can find work underneath the rim, but they really lack a breakout scorer who can rightfully take over the game. To cover this line against a team like Louisville, they’ll have to hit more threes than usual because Deng won’t let them get that many chances closer to the basket.
 
The only way that Wichita State stays relevant in this game, and the tournament, is by matching Louisville’s frenetic pace. The Cardinal don’t just pace the floor hard, they run their opponents in to the ground. Wichita State is a worthy Final Four underdog, but they won’t be able to find the glass slippers necessary to keep their fairytale dreams alive.
 
Louisville won’t just win this game. They’ll ramp up the tempo until the wheels fall off of Wichita State’s carriage, and then smash the pumpkin in to oblivion. This is a lot of points to cover, but when you consider how handedly they’ve dispatched opponents in tournament play, Louisville is the only bet to back on Saturday in this Final Four showdown.
 
Final Four Odds & Picks – Louisville -10.5

  
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