ATLANTA (AP) — Around the Final Four and its host city with journalists from The Associated Press bringing the flavor and details of everything surrounding the games.
FINAL FOUR BEGINS
Enough with the talk. The Final Four is under way at the Georgia Dome.
Top overall seed Louisville, with injured Kevin Ware cheering from the bench, has tipped off with surprising Wichita State in the first of two semifinal games. The nightcap features Michigan against Syracuse, a matchup of No. 4 seeds that are two wins away from winning it all.
This is the third time in 12 seasons that college basketball's signature event has been held in Atlanta's 70,000-seat stadium, which is normally home to the NFL Falcons. It will likely be the last, as the Georgia Dome is scheduled to be replaced a new retractable-roof stadium by 2017.
— Paul Newberry — http://twitter.com/@pnewberry1963
There were no surprises in the starting lineups for the first national semifinal.
Louisville (33-5) started guards Russ Smith and Peyton Siva, forwards Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear and center Gorgui Dieng as it participates in its second straight Final Four.
Wichita State (30-8), playing in its first Final Four since 1965, went with a three-guard lineup of Malcolm Armstead, g and Tekele Cotton along with forward Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall. Early was recently reinserted in the starting lineup after coming off the bench.
The officials are Les Jones, Karl Hess and Terry Wymer, with Mike Eades on standby.
— Dave Skretta — http://twitter.com/@APdaveskretta
Wichita State was the first team to hit the floor at the Final Four on Saturday.
The Shockers slowly walked onto the elevated court of the Georgia Dome more than 60 minutes before their scheduled tip-off against Louisville in the first national semifinal.
Even though they'd had a couple practices in the cavernous football stadium, they still spent a minute staring up at the ceiling, the row upon row of seats and the video screens at each end, almost as if the No. 9 seed was seeing everything for the first time.
Once the balls were finally released by the NCAA, they began their warm-ups in earnest.
Louisville, which played in the Superdome in New Orleans in last year's Final Four, came out about 20 minutes later. The Cardinals wore their suddenly familiar "Ri5e" shirts meant to honor teammate Kevin Ware, who broke his leg in the regional finals against Duke.
— Dave Skretta
When top-seeded Gonzaga played Wichita State during the first week in Salt Lake City, the game plan revolved around stopping Malcolm Armstead and the Bulldogs succeeded. Armstead scored only eight points. Only problem: Ron Baker and Clhcombined for eight 3-pointers and 32 points. Coach Gregg Marshall said even he wasn't expecting that good a shooting night from his team.
Message to Louisville: There's more than one player to stop on the Shockers.
Message to Shockers: To pull another one, against a team like this, might be best if all those guys — Armstead, Baker and Early — are having good nights.
— Eddie Pells — http://twitter.com/@epells
THINGS TO KEEP AN EYE ON
The Final Four tips off Saturday night and Steve Kerr has a few ideas on how to improve college basketball games.
"I could go on for a while," said Kerr, who played 15 seasons in the NBA and was the general manager of the Phoenix Suns from 2007-10. He went to the Final Four with Arizona in 1988 and is working his third straight national semifinals as an analyst for Turner/CBS.
A few of his ideas to watch during the Final Four:
—Eliminate timeouts after made shots. "It just makes the game so choppy."
—Cut out the mandatory media timeouts — under 16, 12, 8 and 4 minutes on the game clock— if a team calls one just before the scheduled timeout." I understand that you've got to sell advertising, but there's plenty of time for advertising because there's enough timeouts already."
—Don't restart the 10-second backcourt count just because a team called a timeout.
—Change the interpretation of the charge/block so it's geared toward the offensive player. "We've got to make the game more pleasing to watch and more fluid."
— John Marshall — http://twitter.com/@ jmarshallap
WARE 'EM OUT
There continues to be major focus on injured Louisville guard Kevin Ware.
Spotted at an apparel tent outside the Georgia Dome: A red T-shirt saying "WARE 'em out for Kevin."
Ware's compound leg fracture in last Sunday's regional final was probably the tournament's most gruesome moment, but the Cardinals have rallied around him at the Final Four. Louisville faces underdog Wichita State in Saturday night's semifinals.
— Noah Trister — http://twitter.com/@noahtrister
FINAL FOUR FEVER
Spring weather arrived Saturday before Louisville and Wichita State tipped off the Final Four inside the Georgia Dome.
And some 100,000 fans descended on downtown Atlanta in the sunny, 70-degree weather— an estimated 20,000 packed Olympic Centennial Park to enjoy the free festivities and about 70,000 inside the arena.
— Charles Odum — http://twitter.com/@CharlesOdum
NCAA Finals Watch follows the Final Four games and all the activities surrounding the event as seen by journalists from The Associated Press from across Atlanta. It will be updated throughout the day with breaking news and other items of interest. Follow AP reporters on Twitter where available.
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