Syracuse, despite a mid-season slump, has made it to the final four. More surprisingly, Wichita State, with a win over mighty Ohio State, once again proved wins over Pitt, Gonzaga, and La Salle earlier in the tournament were no fluke, in the process getting a chance to play in the final four for the just the second time in program history. With yesterday’s results, half the final four is set. Two more teams will punch tickets to the final four today. Here is a look at the two games on the slate for this afternoon:
Florida vs. Michigan
If you like offense, you will love this game. The highly efficient Gators and Wolverines both are in the top ten in the nation in field goal percentage. Led by a stable of lightening quick guards, Florida breezed through woeful SEC (before ultimately getting upset by Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss in the SEC Championship game) to earn a three seed to the NCAAs. In the tourney, the Gators have really hit their stride, knocking off Minnesota impressively in the second round before overcoming a slow start against Florida Gulf Coast in the sweet 16. The last time Florida made the final four was 2007 when Billy Donovan’s team won their second consecutive National Championship. Michigan, meanwhile, is hoping to make the final four for the first time since the “Fab Five” called Ann Arbor home. The offensively explosive and talent-rich Wolverines have gotten this far thanks in large part to an improved defense. Going back as recently as late February, Michigan was still a team that went through periods of either playing little or no defense. Their struggles defensively were never more evident than on Februaury 27th when Penn State, a team previously without a Big Ten win, dropped 84 on Michigan while shooting 50% from three and close to that overall. Michigan, nevertheless, has found a defensive identity for themselves in the NCAAs. They defended the three point arc well in a first round win over a dangerous South Dakota State team, holding Nate Wolters and the Jackrabbits to 56 points. In the second round, Michigan stumped VCU, holding the Rams, fresh off an 88 point performance against Akron, to only 53 points. Michigan was forced to rely on their offense somewhat against a Kansas team that was on the top of their game. The Wolverines used a magnificent performance from Trey Burke to sneak by KU in overtime. Michigan will need to continue play great defense against Arizona to win. Even if they do, this will almost certainly be a high scoring affair.
Louisville vs. Duke
This very well could wind up being the best game of the entire tournament. Every one seed but Louisville has been eliminated and Duke is more than capable of knocking out he final ‘one’ (pun intended). After rolling to the Big East Title in New York, the Cards have not slowed down a bit in the NCAAs, beating North Carolina A&T, Colorado State, and Oregon all without much drama. Drama might be coming up for Louisville today however. The Cardinals played Duke earlier in the season, in a ballroom pretending to be a basketball arena, as part of the Battle 4 Atlantis (notice that they use the number instead of the word…how spunky). It was a highly entertaining basketball game (it was one of the best ones I’ve watched all year, even though I had to endure through Donnie Marshall’s insufferable color commentary on NBC Sports Network) eventually won by Duke thanks to big-time performance by Mason Plumlee and Quinn Cook. Now its rematch time. Duke seems to have regained the form that allowed them to start the season with 15 straight wins, a streak that catapulted them to the top of the AP rankings. Dick Vitale’s favorite team ever clobbered Creighton in the round of 32 before displaying tremendous poise in beating Michigan State. Duke hit 24 of the 26 free throws they attempted against Sparty; even Plumlee went four for four. So here we are now. A little after five P.M., two of college basketball’s most renowned coaches and celebrated programs will go head-to-head with a final four berth on the line. This game is, by my estimation, simply too close to call. Will Louisville’s vexatious defensive trap be able to cause more problems for Duke than it did in their early season meeting? Will Ryan Kelly, marred in a horrific shooting slump, be serviceable offensively? On the flip side, will Louisville star Russ Smith continue the Russdiculous shooting tear he has been on all tournament long? Finally, who will win the battle on the boards between near-seven footers Gorgui Dieng and Mason Plumlee? I can’t wait for these questions to be answered at Lucas Oil Stadium tonight.