ATLANTA — Pressure, pressure, pressure. Apply pressure and maintain pressure.
Even if it didn’t result in a coughed-up ball or a critical miscue, the Michigan men’s basketball team found a way to create some sort of chaos in the early moments of its Final Four matchup against Syracuse.
Saturday night at the Georgia Dome, the Wolverines set an early tone in the national semifinal when Mitch McGary blocked two shots in an emphatic fashion.
And while the actual number of recorded turnovers was minimal — Syracuse had only three in the first half and Michigan two, the early lull came from behind the arc for the Wolverines — a team that has carved its rhythm in this tournament out of its perimeter game. Before Caris Levert’s 3-pointer tied the game at 14-all halfway through the first half, Michigan was an anemic 1-for-9 on 3-point attempts — Tim Hardaway, Jr., opened the game with a 3-pointer.
Then Spike Albrecht came in and provided a spark. Albrecht went 2-for-2 on first-half 3-point attempts and was the bright spot in an offense that opened the game 6-for-17 on 3-pointers yet still took an 11-point lead into halftime.
ACT LIKE YOU’VE BEEN THERE: A year ago, the Louisville basketball team was in nearly the same spot: one of four teams left in the nation that were playing for the national championship.
Louisville defeated Wichita State 72-68 in the first national semifinal Saturday at the Georgia Dome.
In a national semifinal last season, Louisville lost to eventual champion Kentucky 69-61 in an intrastate matchup in New Orleans — a place known for its festive ways.
“The last couple days have been very interesting,” Louisville guard Russ Smith said. “I’ve spent a lot of time in the hotel. The difference between last year and this year, the city of New Orleans was flooded [with fans]. It was too much fun. Beads were getting thrown everywhere. I think this trip is more serious, more business-like.”
Conversely, Wichita State has taken on a new sort of prominence in college basketball, given its midmajor status and its run to the Final Four — one that has put it in the company of programs such as Butler, Virginia Commonwealth, and George Mason.
“I haven’t had to explain much,” Shockers forward Carl Hall said. “Everyone kind of knows now. But they didn’t know two weeks ago! Everyone’s getting familiar seeing us in the newspapers. I’m not nervous about it. I’m excited. We could be back at home playing video games. It’s fun to be here.”
MAP IT OUT: While there’s familiarity with Louisville, Wichita State had some explaining to do during its stay in Atlanta.
“I had a couple guys that worked on the concourse ask me where Wichita is, which isn’t out of the ordinary for us,” Shockers guard Ron Baker said. “I answered them and told them it is in the middle of Kansas, kind of in the middle of nowhere. Everybody knows where Kansas is.”
Louisville entered Saturday’s contest on 14-game winning streak, punctuated by last Sunday’s emotional 85-63 win over Duke to earn a Final Four berth.
“I think the advantage comes throughout the NCAA tournament,” Louisville guard Peyton Siva said Friday, a day before the national semifinal. “I do not think it really comes into play here. Once you get to this point, every day is a championship game. You just have to continue to put it all on the line and that is what I think we’re doing right now. We’re staying together as a team, taking good shots, and playing good defense. That is what’s key for us.”
LOCAL TIE IN STRIPES: Terry Wymer, a North Baltimore resident, was one of three officials in the Final Four game between Louisville and Wichita State. Wymer is officiating his first Final Four and was named last week as one of the pool officials for the national semifinals and championship games. The longtime referee has worked games in the Mid-American Conference, the Big Ten, the Summit League, and Missouri Valley Conference this season.
BIG TIME FOR THE BIG EAST: The Big East sent two teams — Louisville and Syracuse — to the Final Four in its final season as an NCAA conference as we know it.
Syracuse will join Pittsburgh in a move to the Atlantic Coast Conference in July, while Louisville will also move to the ACC in 2014 — all part of a seismic shift in college basketball and football.
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510, or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.