With Syracuse and Wichita State having punched their tickets on Saturday, Sunday was a day where tight games were expected and turned out to be anything but. In the early game, Michigan jumped out early lead and never looked back in beating Florida 79-59 to win the South Regional and punch their first Final Four ticket since 1993. Louisville and Duke were tight through first 25 minutes or so and then the Cards turned it up a notch and ran away with an 85-63 win over the Blue Devils.
What these two teams proved in getting to the Final Four is that there is absolutely no formula for figuring out how to pick a team for your NCAA bracket.
Michigan limped into the tournament with a 6-6 record over their last 12 games. In the Big Ten tournament, they were torched in the second half of a quarter-final contest against Wisconsin when they surrendered over 60 points. Giving up that many points in a half to an offensively-challenged Badgers team left me thinking this Wolverines team just didn’t have the toughness and defensive ability to make the run they ultimately did.
- Pitino and the Cards overcame adversity to get back to the Final Four.
Louisville on the other hand entered the NCAA tournament as hot as any team in the field and was named the number one overall seed heading into it. The Cardinals have now won 14 straight games with their last loss being the epic five-overtime game at Notre Dame. Rick Pitino’s crew had exactly what every great tournament team needs. They have excellent guard-play, athletic big men and play great defense. All three of those factors were vital in beating Duke yesterday.
Michigan is the classic case of a team that can live and die by the three-pointer and so far this tournament, they have proven this fact true but have also added another element. Guard Trey Burke consistently broke down the defense which led to open three-point attempts or created space inside for freshman big man Mitch McGary. Florida looked sluggish as they did in the previous game against FGCU before turning up the heat but they had no answer against Michigan.
It’s obvious to me that Head Coach John Beilein found a way to crank his team’s defensive effort as well, but there were still cracks in it especially against Kansas. Let’s face it, Michigan was bailed out by Burke and in that one overcame some defensive short-comings especially in the paint. If UM expects to get by Syracuse, they’ll need to adjust and keep the paint clear of the Orange.
In Louisville’s case, they went back and forth with Duke in the first half and ultimately led by three at the break. The Cards relied on their trademark defense and good performances from Peyton Siva and Russ Smith but then they relied mental toughness more than they had at any point in the season after teammates Kevin Ware went down with a sickening leg injury.
In the worst possible scenario, Ware suffered a broken leg which was a horrific sight right in front of his own bench. The fact that these young men had seen something so horrible befall a teammate and then use it as motivation was truly remarkable.
Pitino took advantage in my opinion of a poor press break design by Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski to create turnovers and force Duke into poor decisions. Toss in the fact that Duke went ice-cold from the field while Louisville started knocking down shots left and right and the blowout was on.
My early Final Four thoughts
Louisville (-10) vs Wichita State – WSU has been impressive but I don’t think they’re ready for what the Cards will be bringing.
Michigan (-2) vs Syracuse – This game is simple. If UM knocks down shots from outside the 2-3 zone, they win.