The Final Four arrives Saturday. Historically, the Final Four doesn’t produce the drama of earlier rounds. But the first two weekends of the tournament have largely been duds. Few good games. Maybe there will be a role reversal.
Louisville vs. Wichita State: Nobody much remembers, but these schools once shared a conference. Louisville was in the Missouri Valley from 1964-65 through 1974-75. A brief history of Louisville’s conference history: Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference 1925-48, Ohio Valley 1948-49, Independent 1949-64, Missouri Valley 1964-75, Metro Conference 1975-95, Conference USA 1995-2005, Big East 2005-present, now headed for the ACC.
When Wichita State made the Final Four in 1965? Louisville was in the Valley. When Louisville made the Final Four in 1975? Louisville was in the Valley.
Wichita State is the longest-standing Valley member. Been in the conference since 1945.
The Valley hasn’t had a Final Four participant since Indiana State in 1979, with Larry Bird. That ends with this game. So does Wichita State’s season. Cardinals 81-58.
Michigan vs. Syracuse: Just wondering if the Big Ten regrets not inviting Syracuse instead of Rutgers. And not because of the Mike Rice scandal, although that can’t make the stodgy Big Ten all that happy. But think about it. What does Rutgers bring that Syracuse wouldn’t? The New York market? Please. Nobody in New York cares about Rutgers. They darn near don’t care about Rutgers in New Jersey.
Maybe you could argue that Rutgers will get good and build up a big fan base. But how exactly is Rutgers going to get good? They haven’t sustained any football excellence competing against Cincinnati and South Florida. How are they going to sustain football competitiveness playing against Ohio State and Wisconsin? And Rutgers has been playing in a big-time basketball league for decades, with virtually nothing to show for it. No NCAA Tournament trip since 1991. Three NCAA trips since the formation of the Big East in 1979.
Now New York’s going to get all fired up about Rutgers, because it’s playing Indiana and Michigan State instead of Georgetown and Connecticut? I don’t get it.
Syracuse has some cachet on the streets of New York. Put a Syracuse-Rutgers game at Madison Square Garden, and it would be a virtual home game for the Orange. I don’t get it.
As for the game, I love the Wolverines’ Trey Burke, I love the sons of Glenn Robinson and Tim Hardaway, and Michigan has a heck of a coach in John Beilein. Wolverines 66-61.
Louisville vs. Michigan: Here’s quite the stat for you. The Fab Five won as many NCAA Tournament when it was down to the Fab Four as the Wolverines won since, until this season. You can look it up. Michigan went to back-to-back NCAA title games with the Fab Five — Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson — but went to the 1994 regional final after Webber turned pro. Those Wolverines lost 76-68 to Arkansas. Between 1994 and 2013, Michigan won three NCAA Tournament games. Beat Davidson 80-61 in 1998, Clemson 62-59 in 2009 (before losing to the Blake Griffin Sooners) and Tennessee 75-45 in 2012.
Meanwhile, Louisville has an unrecognized hero. When Kevin Ware suffered that horrific broken leg last Sunday against Duke, and everyone in Lucas Oil Stadium seemed to look away, including the Cardinals and the Blue Devils, Louisville junior Luke Hancock rushed to Ware’s side. The transfer from George Mason knelt beside Ware while medical personnel worked on Ware. It was a wonderful example of humanitarianism.
I know the Cardinals were upset. Justifiably so. But Hancock saw past his own horror and realized a teammate was in need.
That’s not why I’m picking Louisville. But I am. Cardinals 76-66.