Duke vs. Louisville: Why Midwest Region Final Is the De Facto NCAA Title Game
Duke will face Louisville in the final of the Midwest region on Sunday with the winner advancing to the Final Four in Atlanta.
This matchup has everything any college basketball fan would want: two of the premiere programs in college basketball led by two of the best coaches in the game who have their teams playing at a high level.
These really are the two best teams in the country, and in that sense, it feels like there will be much more on the line Sunday than a trip to the Final Four. This game may end up determining the national title.
However, Duke and Louisville’s meeting is unfortunate. After all, what are the two best teams left in the tournament doing playing in the Elite Eight and not in the Final Four or title game? This isn’t how the tournament is supposed to work.
Unfortunately, this kind of a game was inevitable given how the NCAA Selection Committee split up the regions. With juggernauts like Louisville, Duke and Michigan State all being placed in the Midwest region, a matchup of heavyweights was expected in the Elite Eight.
What was not expected, though, was the number of top seeds that have already been eliminated. Louisville is the only No. 1 seed remaining in the tournament after both Indiana and Kansas lost in the Sweet 16. Gonzaga was eliminated in the round of 32 after losing to Wichita State.
Duke is one of just two No. 2 seeds left along with Ohio State. Georgetown was upset in the round of 64 by Florida Gulf Coast, and fellow ACC member Miami fell to Marquette in the Sweet 16.
Sure, other teams remaining in the tournament are playing quality basketball, but no one is playing on the same level as Louisville and Duke.
The Cardinals have comfortably won each of their first three games. Offensively, Louisville has been excellent, shooting 55.9 percent from the floor. Defensively, they have 38 steals so far in the NCAA tournament.
Russ Smith certainly has the inside track for the tournament’s most outstanding player. He had 31 points against Oregon Friday and is averaging 27 points per game in the first three games. If Smith continues to play at this level, it is extremely tough to envision anyone knocking off Louisville.
Duke has beaten each of its three opponents in the tournament by double figures, including an impressive 71-61 win over Michigan State in the Sweet 16.
Seth Curry has battled a stress fracture in his right shin all season, but he poured in 29 points against the Spartans with six makes from beyond the arc. Curry is averaging 24 points per game this tournament and has made 10-of-20 from deep.
There just isn’t anyone in the tournament left that is playing on either Duke’s or Louisville’s level.
Ohio State might have an argument, having won 11 games in a row, but while the Buckeyes have received big contributions from their role players of late, they still aren’t as well-rounded. Plus, OSU needed some late-game heroics to pull out wins over Iowa State and Arizona.
Will the winner of Duke/Louisville go on to win the national title?
Neither of the two No. 3 seeds left in the tournament have much of an argument. Florida has beaten only double-digit seeds on its way to the Elite Eight. Marquette is lucky it didn’t go home after its first game against Davidson.
Michigan point guard Trey Burke was unbelievable in his team’s comeback against Kansas Friday night, but the Wolverines have struggled defensively at various points throughout the season.
Syracuse has the most impressive victory of the tournament, beating Indiana in the Sweet 16, but it’s tough to trust the Orange will play that well on offense each time out.
All are good teams that have had good runs to this point, but none of them measure up to either Louisville or Duke.
As a result, Sunday’s Elite Eight game between the Cardinals and Blue Devils not only will determine who will be heading to Atlanta, it will also determine who will be the overwhelming favorite to win the national title.
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