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Top eight storylines of the national title game

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The college basketball season comes to a close tonight as Louisville and Michigan square off at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. In case you’ve been living under a rock — or on the off chance you took the demise of your bracket too hard — here are the storylines you need to know.

Kevin Ware: Louisville’s sophomore guard suffered a gruesome broken leg during the Elite 8 against Duke, bad enough that his bone was protruding through his skin. But after telling his teammates not to worry about him and to just win the game, they did.

And then they rallied to beat Wichita State.

And now here they are, in the national title game.

source: Reuters

And Luke Hancock, too: Hancock’s story is just as good as Ware’s, to be honest. Hancock, a George Mason transfer, was named captain of the Cardinals before he even played a game. He was the first player by Ware’s side when he suffered the injury. He made all the big plays down the stretch during the comeback against the Shockers. And he did it all in front of his terminally ill father.

Mitch McGary’s emergence: McGary was inconsistent throughout his freshman season, but in the five games of this NCAA tournament, the Michigan power forward turned into a potential lottery pick. How? By averaging 16.0 points and 11.6 boards. He also handed out six assists in their win over Syracuse on Saturday. Right now, he’s the front runner for NCAA tournament MOP.

source: AP

The Unicyclist: Mitch McGary, all 6-foot-10, 255 pounds of him, can ride a unicycle. Seriously.

John Beilein vs. Rick Pitino: You’d be hard-pressed to find two coaches whose career-paths have differed as much as Pitino (who has Louisville in the Final Four for the third time since 2005) and Beilein’s have (who’s in his first Final Four). But they’re both here, and they both have the talent to win. I’d go deeper into this, but there’s a reason that Joe Posnanski gets all the good writing assignments. It’s because he’s the best.

source: Reuters

What if Pitino never went to the NBA?: If he had never coached the Knicks and never coached the Celtics, would he be the best coach in the history of college basketball? At the very least, there’s an argument to make there. (Also, he just got elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. So he’s not exactly hurting for honors.)

Trey Burke, Player of the Year: Over the last couple of days, Michigan’s sophomore point guard has won every one of the major Player of the Year awards. That’s good. That means that people were paying attention to me. But outside of a three minute stretch against Kansas, Burke has not played all that well during the tournament. In fact, I think that McGary is far and away the most valuable Wolverine to day.

Can he handle Russ Smith and Peyton Siva?: The biggest reason this matchup is so intriguing is because we’ll get to watch Burke, the nation’s best player, go up against Smith (pictured below) and Siva, the nation’s best backcourt. The only person on the court faster than Siva is Smith. So good luck to Burke.

source: Getty Images

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: A Big 12 and a Big Ten showdown

Denzel Valentine
(AP Photo/Al Goldis)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 10 West Virginia at No. 6 Kansas, 7:00 p.m.

The last time these two teams got together, West Virginia actually knocked off Kansas in Morgantown. It was the third time in the last three seasons that WVU has beaten KU at home. So there’s some revenge at stake here. But there’s also the whole Big 12 title race, which West Virginia currently leads. If the Mountaineers win tonight, they’ll be up by two games on Kansas with the tie breaker and just seven games left to play. The Jayhawks regular season title streak could be over if that happens.

THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: No. 8 Michigan State at No. 18 Purdue, 7:00 p.m.

We think the Spartans are back to their early season form after wins over Maryland (at home), Northwestern, Rutgers and Michigan. If Michigan State really wants to prove something to the college basketball world, they will go into West Lafayette tonight and get a win. Denzel Valentine vs. Raphael Davis will be fun.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  1. Pitt will pay a visit to No. 12 Miami in a game the Panthers could really use a win in. Pitt hasn’t been the most consistent team in the country and without adding a few quality wins they could be looking at the bubble.
  2. Duquesne will be paying a visit to No. 19 Dayton, who moved into a tie for first place in the Atlantic 10 thanks to VCU’s loss on Saturday.
  3. Georgia is right there on the bubble, and they will have a chance to try and push themselves into a better spot when they play at No. 22 Kentucky tonight.
  4. Creighton probably has to win out to have a shot of making the NCAA tournament, and that includes tonight, when they host No. 5 Xavier.
  5. No. 7 Virginia will be hosting Virginia Tech, who picked off the Wahoos in Blacksburg earlier this year.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • No. 1 Villanova at DePaul, 8:30 p.m.
  • No. 25 Wichita State at Drake, 8:00 p.m.

 

PLAYER OF THE YEAR POWER RANKINGS: Buddy Hield isn’t going anywhere

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) drives to the basket as LSU guard Antonio Blakeney (2) defends in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)
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It’s Tuesday, which means that it is once again time for the NBC Sports Player of the Year Power Rankings.

And you’ll be shocked to find out that Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield is still No. 1 in those rankings. By a pretty wide margin.

The rest of the top 10?

They can be found here, at the CBT FaceBook page. Follow that page for the countdown: