The last two participants in the Final Four punched their tickets on Saturday night, as Louisville knocked off Duke and Michigan ran over Florida, completing one of the most anticlimactic Elite 8s in the history of the Elite 8.
And that means it’s now official: No. 1 Louisville will be taking on No. 9 Wichita State on Saturday night at 6:09 p.m. ET in the Georgia Dome, with No. 4 Michigan taking on No. 4 Syracuse 40 minutes after the first game ends.
We’re going to have oh-so-much content rolling out over the next couple of days, but in order to get you prepped for the most anticipated three games of the college basketball season, here are seven thoughts to get the juices flowing:
1) Louisville has to be considered the favorite to win it all: Let’s start with the obvious: they were the favorite entering the tournament, and there is no one else left in the tournament seeded higher than fourth in their region. It’s simple math, really. Louisville was the best team in the country three weeks ago, and nothing about the way that they have played since Selection Sunday has done anything to convince us otherwise. Russ Smith has played like an all-american, Peyton Siva is showing everyone the value of having a veteran point guard as absurdly talented as he is, and Rick Pitino’s put them into a system where they can thrive.
2) But don’t be silly and count out Wichita State just yet: The Shockers beat Gonzaga, putting together one of the most impressive finishing kicks we’ve seen this season. They knocked off Ohio State, leading by as much as 20. Pitt and La Salle? They didn’t stand a chance. In fact, the Shockers have led by as much as 13 points in every game this tournament. They’re pretty good.
3) Michigan matches up pretty well with Syracuse: You need shooters to beat the Syracuse zone, and Michigan has that. You need length on the perimeter to be able to make that pass into the high post, and Michigan has that. You need someone to put at the high post that can be a threat to score, and Michigan has that. They also have Trey Burke, the best player in the country this season. Here’s the biggest question: who is Trey Burke going to guard? Can he stop Michael Carter-Williams or Brandon Triche if they want to get to the rim against him?
4) But that Syracuse zone is deadly: They’ve allowed just 0.72 PPP in four tournament games. By comparison, Stephen F. Austin led the country by allowing 0.843 PPP this season. Good luck, Michigan.
5) Don’t let me catch you calling the Big Ten overrated: It’s silly to base the success of a team or a conference on how well they perform in the NCAA tournament. Always has been and always will be. The NCAA tournament is all about matchups. That’s what happens when you’re dealing with a one-and-done knockout event. That’s what a team like Wichita State — or Butler or VCU or George Mason — is able to make a run to the Final Four. Do you think that the Shockers would beat Gonzaga in a five-game series? Do you really think that Florida Gulf Coast is one of the 16 best teams in the country?
To pull off an upset in the tournament, you need the right matchup, the right game-plan, flawless execution and a night where the opponent doesn’t play all that well. That Indiana and Syracuse, for example. The Orange had the length to bother Indiana’s guard, Cody Zeller picked the wrong night to struggle and Jordan Hulls was playing with a separated shoulder. Does that mean Syracuse is a better team? Or had a better season?
No. It means they had a better night.
And it certainly doesn’t mean that the Big East was a better conference that the Big Ten.
Because after all, the fifth-place Big Ten team is in the Final Four. Think about that.
6) Success in February isn’t a prerequisite to success in March: Wichita State started the season 15-1. They went 5-5 in their last 10 regular season games and lost to Creighton in the MVC title game. Syracuse was 18-1 before finishing the regular season 5-7. Michigan was 20-1 and was ranked No. 1 in the country at one point before going 5-5 in their last 10 and losing in the second round of the Big Ten tournament. All three of those teams managed to turn it around and make the Final Four. So much for momentum.
7) Another reason the demise of the Big East is sad?: This is the fourth straight year that the Big East tournament champion has made the Final Four. Louisville did it last year, UConn won the title in 2011 and West Virginia upset Kentucky to make the Final Four in 2010. In 2007, Georgetown made the Final Four as well.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.