Final Four Brings an End to March Madness

Matt Washuta

The hoops hysteria of the past couple of weeks has winnowed down to a mere four teams left to contend for the National Championship in Atlanta this weekend. The journey to this year’s Final Four has been marked by many great upsets and several close calls. Florida Gulf Coast University became the lowest seed ever to reach the Sweet Sixteen. No. 13 seed La Salle also made the Sweet Sixteen and a plethora of lower seeds advanced to the round of 32 teams. Out of this madness, four teams emerged victorious so far: Louisville, Michigan, Syracuse and Wichita State. 

Wichita State booked its trip to Atlanta as the lowest seed in the Final Four. Wichita State’s low seeding should not give anyone pause concerning its strengths. Offensively, the team has threats on the perimeter in senior guard Malcolm Armstead and freshman guard Ron Baker. Its offense in the paint is also dominant with forwards Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall leading the team.

Defensively, the Shockers have been lockdown central in the paint. The team has consistently denied scoring opportunities on the inside and forced opponents to take many contested outside shots. The combination of the Shockers’ successful offense and defense has allowed the team to earn a spot in the Final Four. 

The Shockers should have the confidence to compete with a Goliath in Louisville. Wichita State upended No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the Round of 32, beat upset-minded La Salle in the Sweet Sixteen and defeated the Big 10 Tournament Champions Ohio State in the regional final to earn its trip to the Final Four.

However, it faces stiff competition in Louisville. The Cardinals may very well be considered title favorites. Louisville boasts a lightning fast offense with junior guard Russ Smith and senior guard Peyton Siva leading the way. The duo is responsible for one of the fastest offensive transition games in recent college basketball memory. They also combine for a stellar 4.3 steals per game using their trademark full-court defense. On the inside, the Cardinals have one of the most complete big men in the country in center Gorgui Deng. He has a capable offensive game on the inside but it is his defense that sends opponents home. 

Deng’s defense in the paint is nearly indomitable with his 2.5 blocks per game. Deng also brings an imposing presence in the paint as his help on defense has created many forced turnovers. 

In the other Final Four matchup, the Michigan Wolverines will take on the Syracuse Orange. The Wolverines have always had the talent this season, but were inconsistent as some players were unable to reach their potential in each game. But this Michigan team in March has had an entirely different dynamic. The Wolverines seem to be firing on all cylinders in the tournament as every player has been playing up to his full potential. 

Opponents can only wish for some of the talented players on the Michigan team. Sophomore guard Trey Burke has consistently been one of the best performers in the nation and is a favorite to win the coveted Naismith Player of the Year award for his efforts. A deep supporting cast has complemented Burke’s stellar game. Junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr. is one of the best shooters in the game and has consistently banked many of his shot attempts in the tournament, making him even more dangerous. Freshman guard Nik Stauskas is another threat on the perimeter, as he, like Hardaway, possesses a lethal shooting game and has iced many clutch shots in the tournament. 

Michigan’s interior game has been phenomenal during the tournament. Center Mitch McGary was one of the most heralded freshmen players going into the season, but had been inconsistent and underperformed in many games during the regular season. His play during the tournament is an entirely different story, however. McGary seems to be reaching his potential throughout the tournament, shutting down opposing offenses in the paint and playing some of the best interior offense one could expect from a big man in the tournament.

 Freshman forward Glenn Robinson III is another threat on the inside. Robinson possesses a strong inside game as well as a strong shooting game, but his play has been inconsistent during the tournament. 

The Wolverines face a stiff test against Syracuse and its seemingly unflappable zone defense. The Orange possess a talented, experienced team led by junior forward C.J. Fair, senior forward James Southerland, sophomore forward Rakeem Christmas, senior guard Brandon Triche and sophomore guard Michael Carter-Williams. 

These five core players provide a deliberate, yet explosive offense and a lights out defense. All of these players can bank shots and play aggressively in the paint as well. The Orange defense has yet to be exposed in this tournament, as opposing teams have consistently struggled to score. Even the stellar Indiana team was held to its lowest point total of the season. 

This year’s Final Four should be a potent one as all four teams provide a complete game and the talent necessary to win the championship and earn their rings. Louisville should be considered a title favorite as its offense and defense have been nearly invincible throughout the past couple of weeks, but the other three teams in the tournament all possess the capability to earn the rights to the championship, as well. Look for Saturday’s games to be bitterly fought, as teams will battle each other for every single possession.