I should have known better than to try to make a few predictions when it came to the Sweet 16 and the Elite 8, because March Madness is essentially impossible to predict. But predictions are fun to make, and they're great to discuss when you actually get them right. We saw some more crazy finishes and upsets this week (and probably the worst injury I've ever seen, but more on that later). Now it's time for the Final Four in Atlanta, and once again I'll try to guess who's going to come out on top. I clearly haven't learned any lessons... As with the last time, I'll toss in some recap to explain how we got here for those who missed it.
Louisville (Midwest) Wichita State (West):
In last week's article, a simple misprint made it appear as though I picked Oregon to advance, but closer reading shows that I picked Louisville, so I'm going to say I managed to get one Final Four pick right. Louisville has continued to look every bit the part of THE one seed. They defeated a scrappy, underrated Oregon team by hounding their guards for the duration of the game. The game wasn't as close as the 77-69 score would suggest. Louisville then had to overcome the horrifying sight of seeing one of their friends and teammates go down with the worst leg injury I've ever seen in sports. I'm only 26 years old, so I've missed a great deal of the history of sports injuries, but Ware's fracture is ahead of Shaun Livingston's knee in hoops as wells as Willis McGahee and Marcus Lattimore's knee injuries in football. The replays were awful. I need to stop typing about this, it's just bad, let's move on. Once again, Louisville was crazy-great on defense. Duke shot an abysmal 36 percent from the field and 25 percent from deep. The final score in this one (85-63) was actually very indicative of the overall course of the game. Louisville is legit, folks.
The you have this year's big sleeper, the 9-seed from the West bracket, Wichita State. They were able to make short work of 13-seeded La Salle in the Sweet 16 match-up, beating them 72-58 thanks largely to Malcolm Armstead. The Shockers then faced a big challenge against 2-seed Ohio State in the Elite 8. Wichita State jumped out to a big first half lead and survived a late OSU surge to hang on for a very impressive 70-66 win. They're the highest seed to reach the Final Four since 11-seed VCU in, well, 2011. However, they're just the fifth team seeded 9th or higher to reach the Final Four since seeding became a thing in 1979. That sounds a bit more impressive. I think it all ends today though, with a loss to the extremely talented Louisville team helped along by that Rick Pitino guy in that head coach position. I probably just jinxed them. Sorry, Louisville. The game tips off at 5:09 CST on CBS.
Michigan (South) Syracuse (East)
Alright, I'll admit I got a little bit carried away with the whole FGCU thing. But didn't we all? For one week, they were America's team. I wanted it so desperately that I ridiculously chose them to go to the Final Four. I knew better, but I was trying to my part by sending good predictive vibes and mojo their way. Well then Florida happened. They were just was too long and athletic for FGCU. They put pressure on the ball-handlers, jumped out into passing lanes, and challenged every shot. FGCU was simply overwhelmed.
Meanwhile, Michigan was busy playing the 1-seed Kansas Jayhawks. Kansas seemed to be in control for the first 32 or so minutes of the game, and then it became the Trey Burke-Mitch McGary show. McGary is a force to be reckoned with down low, and Trey Burke is just the Wooden Award winner. Burke hit an incredible 30+ footer from behind the 3-line with 5 seconds left to send the game into OT. The duo then combined for 9 of the 11 points Michigan scored in OT to beat the Jayhawks 87-85 in what was my personal favorite as most exciting game of the tournament thus far.
All this brought about a not-so-exciting Michigan-Florida match-up that Burke and the Wolverines dominated from the beginning. They outscored the Gators in each half to run away with the contest, 79-59. Michigan is an explosive, young squad that looks the part of Kemba Walker's UCONN squad from a couple years ago. I like them quite a bit.
Syracuse, on the other hand, is just strategically dismantling their opposition. The Sweet 16 game against Indiana showed just how intensely difficult their zone could be to manage. The Hoosiers were the third-highest scoring team in the country and hadn't scored less than 56 all season. That changed with 'Cuse. The Orange took Indiana out of its flow at the onset and never looked back as Indiana managed just 50 points to Syracuse's 61. The zone D only intensified against a significantly over-matched Marquette squad. Boeheim's group held Marquette to just 39 points ('Cuse put up 55) in 40 minutes to pave their way to the Final Four. Marquette shot 22 percent from the floor and just 12 percent from 3-land. The zone is the truth.
This builds up to a unique Final Four match-up, and it's admittedly a difficult one to call. I'm going to go with my 2011 UCONN comparison gut-instinct and ride Trey Burke's unwillingness to lose right into the national title game against Louisville. I'll hold off on predicting that would-be game until Sunday after we all see what takes place tonight. The Michigan-Syracuse game tips off at 7:49 CST, also on CBS.
Phillip Rudd is a graduate history student at the University of North Texas. He continues to prioritize sports over education. The least you could do is engage him on Twitter at @SoonerAristotle. But be warned, he's a Duke fan.
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