After five nail-biting months and eight unbelievable days of tournament basketball, we have gotten to this point. One last regional site, one last four-team bracket, one last time to partake of March (now April) Madness.
We got here, of course, via the four regional finals. The Elite Eight, as they were. Like a snowflake, each game was different. From seeds (okay, well, some seeds) to score, no two were the same. And rather than just talking about the highlights from each round, we’ll talk about all four games in the round this time.
State-ing The Obvious
Gregg Marshall’s perpetual message to his team was that they “belonged”. That they weren’t an underdog. The low seed? That’s the tournament’s problem. We just play who we play and we play championship-caliber basketball.
Now in the Final Four, the fourth-lowest seed to do so since MVC representative Indiana State made it there in 1979, DOES belong. This isn’t an underdog. This team, pretty much starting over from a year ago, beat VCU and Creighton in the regular season and were nationally ranked before a string of bad losses in late January and Early February.
The VCU and Creighton wins didn’t necessarily allude to them knocking off Gonzaga and Ohio State, but they proved how dangerous these underrated Shockers were. Their only weakness this season has been there inconsistency. But the funny thing about inconsistency is it’s a roller coaster. A pendulum. And sometimes that pendulum finds itself on the right side at the right time.
How’s this for irony: the season mired under the word “parity” finally has a dominant, one-to-beat team in the month perennially associated with disorder in college basketball. And that team? Why, the Louisville Cardinals, of course.
Even with an emotional injury to a teammate and their first real test of the tournament in Duke, Louisville once again appeared to be on an echelon higher than any other school in this tournament, eliminated or otherwise. And it’s not just because they’re the only #1 seed still alive. If Gonzaga were here, it would, at the very least, come with a close call against Wichita State. Kansas? An OT thriller with Michigan. Indiana? Close calls against Syracuse and Temple.
Louisville is the only team that can say with any kind of straight face that they’ve coasted thus far through the tournament. Before Duke, it was easy for us to dismiss that with the notion the teams they played were seeded 8, 12, and 16. The Blue Devils, though, were a #2 seed that easily could’ve been a #1. And the result was still the same.
Now after beating that #2/#1 seed in Duke, the only teams still alive are seeded 4 and 9, the ladder of which is their path to the National Championship. I don’t want to say this tournament is already wrapped up because, well, it’s still madness even though we’re in April, but at the very least it is theirs to lose.
Don’t Call It A Comeback
Syracuse is back in the Final Four for the first time in ten years, leading everyone to say, “Jim Boeheim hasn’t been in the Final Four for ten years?” His constant success with the Orange has often overshadowed the fact that getting this far in the tournament has been rare for Boeheim in recent history.
Maybe it’s because his teams’ departures haven’t been as shocking as the barrage of upsets John Thompson has endured or maybe it’s because the 2003 Final Four run wasn’t as memorable as, say, that of the VCU Rams in 2011, but time seemed to escape from us when thinking about how good this Syracuse season has become.
Don’t get me wrong, there have been dark times — like, really dark times — but every major team has struggled at some point this year. Syracuse nearly won the Big East after knocking off top-seeded Georgetown and now they are one of only two Big East teams remaining in the tournament.
Jim Boeheim’s ten years between Final Four runs should remind us that getting to this point — this year that point being Atlanta — is very, very hard and that dozens of good teams and great coaches never get this far. It’s not a negative to miss the Final Four. No, rather, it’s a welcomed accomplishment when you do.
When Georgetown lost to Florida Gulf Coast — I’m sorry, Dunk City — I looked ahead and saw a matchup between Kansas and the winner of Michigan-VCU. I decided that game, not the one yesterday, would decide who advances to the Final Four out of the South. And, after stunning Kansas, Michigan ran over Florida to validate my theory.
This is not some jibe at Florida. I thought Billy Donovan had a good team this year. But Final Four-caliber? No, I don’t think so. To me, the three legitimate threats to win the region were Kansas, Georgetown, and Michigan with VCU being an outside threat if they managed to get through the Wolverines IN Auburn Hills.
Now Michigan will play Syracuse, guaranteeing one #4 seed will be playing in the national championship. The last time a #4 seed won it all was in 1997, leading one to conclude that #4 seeds aren’t exactly everyday championship contenders. Then again, Michigan isn’t your everyday #4 seed, which is why I had them as one of the legitimate contenders in my March Madness preview.
NOTE: This story was originally published for SportsHead. To read this article and others click here.
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