A Cinderella story, a No. 1 overall seed, a star-driven powerhouse, and a defensive juggernaut. The field of 68 teams has dwindled down to four, and each remaining team has its own unique stories and distinguishable traits that have got them to this point. This weekend the Final Four will take place in Atlanta, where Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan and Syracuse will compete for a spot in the National Championship game. Top seed Louisville will play ninth-seeded Wichita State on Saturday, April 6 at 3:09 p.m., and fourth-seeded Michigan will take on fourth-seeded Syracuse on the same day at 5:49 P.M. After the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight offered dramatic upsets, late-game heroics, and even a heartbreaking injury, the Final Four is set to mark the next historic chapter of what has been an emotional, highly entertaining, and bracket-busting NCAA Tournament.
When the tournament began, few college basketball fans could have correctly predicted the Final Four that now stands before them. Possibly the only team that isn’t making a surprise appearance is Louisville, the No. 1 overall seed entering the tournament. The Cardinals dominated the first two rounds, and then handily beat Oregon 77-69 in the Sweet Sixteen. They followed that up with a convincing 85-63 victory over Duke in the Elite 8, although the win was overshadowed by a gruesome injury sustained by Louisville sophomore guard Kevin Ware. Late in the first half, Ware jumped to contest a shot and landed awkwardly, breaking his leg in two places. Both Louisville and Duke players were clearly shaken upon seeing the damage done to Ware’s leg, and the game was stopped for almost 10 minutes as athletic trainers addressed the injury. After play resumed and a close first half was wrapped up, Louisville took control in the second half to secure their second consecutive trip to the Final Four.
Nearly ever year, there is a team that seemingly came out of nowhere to find unexpected March Madness success. In a tournament full of these teams, Wichita State has ridden their unexpected success the farthest. After dismantling Pittsburgh and upsetting No. 1 seed Gonzaga, the aptly-named Shockers took care of business against No. 13 seed La Salle in the Sweet Sixteen and then held on to defeat No. 2 seed Ohio State by a score of 70-66 in the Elite Eight. Now, they look to take down Louisville, the ultimate Goliath, on Saturday and get one step closer to the championship that almost no one gave them a chance to win.
Rounding out the Final Four are Michigan and Syracuse, both well-known basketball schools with storied histories. While the two teams’ paths will meet in Atlanta on Saturday, they have each traveled very different roads throughout the tournament to get there. Syracuse has breezed through its competition, winning three of its four games by double digits and using its tantalizing zone defense to suffocate opponents. After beating California 66-60, the fourth-seeded Orangemen knocked off No. 1 seed Indiana 61-50 in the Sweet Sixteen. They pulled off another upset in the Elite Eight, using their top-notch defense to overcome third seeded Marquette 55-39.
In contrast, Michigan has been pushed to the brink of elimination, and barring an extraordinary comeback would not have survived to face Syracuse. The Wolverines had their way in their first two games against South Dakota St. and VCU, but ran into a wall against No. 1 seed Kansas, finding themselves down by 10 late in the second half. They battled back to trail by three with under 10 seconds left, and star point guard sophomore Trey Burke sent the game into overtime with a clutch three-pointer. Burke then dominated the overtime period to lead Michigan to an improbable win over the stunned Jayhawks.
While the teams that reached the Final Four stole the spotlight, there were a few other noteworthy stories from the tournament action last weekend. No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast had their Cinderella run ended by Florida in the round of 16. FGCU became the first 15 seed ever to make the Sweet Sixteen after they upset Georgetown and San Diego State. Elsewhere, Ohio State bested Arizona 73-70 in the Sweet Sixteen on a three-pointer by sophomore forward LaQuinton Ross. In the East region, Miami’s impressive season was ended by Marquette, who beat the Hurricanes 71-61 before falling to Syracuse in the Elite Eight.
With only three more games left to be played, the 2013 NCAA Tournament is coming to an end. Whether it is Louisville, Wichita State, Michigan or Syracuse, a champion will be crowned on Monday. Judging by all the mayhem that has occurred in the past two weeks, it will be all too suiting if the three final games come down to the final seconds and earn their place in March Madness history. When examining the stories that have brought these four teams together, it becomes clear that the champions will be deserving of their incredible achievement, and will headline the talk of an outstanding NCAA Tournament for years to come.