As the old saying goes, March Madness brings April Sadness. The tournament field is down to four teams, and if the first two weeks of the tournament served as any indication, the last three games have all the makings of a classic finish in Atlanta. In fact, only nine people out of 3 million participants in the Yahoo bracket challenge picked the Final Four teams correctly.
Florida Gulf Coast’s Cinderella run ended with a whimper against big brother Florida, Michigan staged an unbelievable comeback against Kansas in the only overtime game thus far, and nine seed Wichita State is in their first Final Four since 1964. Jim Boeheim and Syracuse’s oft-shaky squad have used a seamless 2-3 zone defense to get to Atlanta, while Louisville hasn’t let off the gas since their opening round throttling of North Carolina A&T.
The two games on Sunday afternoon weren’t even close, and the most shocking aspect of the day was Louisville’s Kevin Ware breaking his leg after contesting a shot from Duke’s Tyler Thornton. When Ware landed, his right shin snapped in half, exposing a considerable among of bone and leaving the entire arena shuddering. ABC News’ Liz Neporent explained the injury. Louisville players fell to their knees and wept on the court, and gathered around Ware as he was wheeled off on a stretcher. He told them to go win the game, and they abided. With the score knotted at 42, Louisville used a stellar 17-2 run to ice the game. Louisville’s stellar guard play, size and athleticism in the paint, and emotional crusade to win for their fallen teammate, the Cardinals are the favorite to win it all.
No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 9 Wichita State
No team has been able to stop Rick Pitino’s Louisville squad, but Wichita State has been surprising more talented all tournament long. Louisville’s lightning quick guard tandem of Russ Smith and Peyton Siva will test the mettle of Shocker guards Malcom Armstead and Tekele Cotton. WSU will also have to throw guards Ron Baker, Fred Van Vleet, and Demetric Williams at the duo and just see if anything works. Shocker forward Carl Hall will find it difficult to score against shot blocker Gorgui Dieng, and if WSU isn’t getting points inside, Cleanthony Early and his teammates need to be on fire from the three point line. The game will be closer than most people imagine, but Louisville just seems like a special, once in a generation team. In the end, they’re too talented and motivated to lose. Louisville will gain control late and advance to the National Championship game.
No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 4 Syracuse
Both of these teams are four seeds, but they couldn’t be more different. Michigan was ranked in the top 5 all year, while Syracuse huffed and puffed its way to nine losses, nearly losing relevance. Freshman point guard Michael Carter-Williams has started to consistently play at his ceiling, and Syracuse’s stifling zone defense held Indiana to a season low 50 points. Now we’ll see what their ugly but effective brand of defense can do to a Wolverine team ranked first in offensive efficiency. Point guard Trey Burke and company are the most gifted scoring team in the country. Guard Nik Stauskas hits three pointers at an astonishing 45% clip, and freshman forward Mitch McGary had an out of body experience in March, averaging 17.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. While Syracuse has been holding opponents to 46 points a game, they’re only averaging 61 points through the last three games, a number that will have to increase if they want to keep this one close. Michigan has seen a little bit of everything so far, and I expect them to juice the Orange. They’ll play Louisville for the title in Atlanta.