March Madness 2013: Grading Each Team's Path to the Final Four
The road has finally twisted and turned all the way to Atlanta, home of the Final Four.
Louisville, Michigan, Syracuse and Wichita State all have taken different paths to get to this point, but regardless of the way, a big congratulations is certainly in order to each squad, respectively.
Which of the four has proven the most thus far? Which team had the easiest road to get to this point?
I'll grade each team's path to Atlanta and examine how they landed in the Final Four.
Spoiler alert—they all pass.
Louisville Cardinals: B+
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Defeated: North Carolina A&T, Colorado State, Oregon and Duke.
If anybody had any doubts that Louisville didn't deserve the overall No. 1 seed, those thoughts should be long forgotten.
Louisville has handled every team they have come across so far in the tournament, with the most recent shellacking of Duke in the Elite Eight. Quite frankly, it has looked way too easy for the Cardinals in the tournament.
The Cardinals have been led by the play and emotions of senior Peyton Siva.
Siva has controlled the tempo of all their games thus far and always seems to stick the dagger in opponents when it seems they may be making a run.
Louisville has shown they can handle competing against any style of play.
They out-rebounded one of the best teams in the country on the glass in Colorado State. They contained the quickness of the Oregon guards and gave them a dose of their own medicine. The Cardinals then dominated Duke, a team that has the potential to shoot the lights out and bang inside.
The balanced and deadly attack of the Cardinals has helped them cruise right to the Final Four.
Michigan Wolverines: A
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Defeated: South Dakota State, Virginia Commonwealth, Kansas and Florida.
Michigan is a team that has probably turned the most heads in the NCAA tournament.
The Wolverines were supposedly primed for an upset in their first game against South Dakota State. If they were lucky enough to escape the Jackrabbits, Michigan wasn't very likely to get by VCU.
Now it is the Wolverines who are smiling.
Michigan looks flat-out unstoppable and Trey Burke is solidifying his campaign to be the John Wooden award winner as the national player of the year.
Other than the heart-racing Sweet 16 matchup with Kansas, Michigan has blown out their competition. Their fast-paced game was too much for VCU and when something is too much for VCU and that havoc defense, it is special.
Contributions from players not usually in the spotlight have been huge for the Wolverines.
Mitch McGary has been a force to be reckoned with down low, grabbing rebounds left and right while finishing strong around the rim consistently. Nik Stauskas was unconscious from beyond the arc in the Elite Eight against Florida and if that continues this scorching hot team is a matchup nightmare for anyone.
Other than the wild win against Kansas, Michigan has waltzed (sprinted may be more appropriate) directly towards the Final Four.
Syracuse Orange: A-
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Defeated: Montana, California, Indiana and Marquette.
Defense wins championships. This has to be a phrase that head coach Jim Boeheim is constantly drilling into the minds of his Syracuse players.
The 2-3 zone that the Orange play is quite impressive and the fact that they were able to hold Indiana and Marquette to 50 and 39 points, respectively, proves that.
Syracuse has bought into a system that has propelled them from "upset alert" in the first couple rounds to a Final Four appearance. Maybe their inconsistent play down the stretch was a tuneup as they ironed out the kinks for this NCAA tournament run.
Michael Carter-Williams has been dishing the rock like he has been doing the whole year and he is not turning the ball over, a key to their success.
C.J. Fair and James Southerland are capable scorers who have been doing just that to carry the load on the offensive end for the Orange.
If people want high-scoring flashy basketball they should tune out if Syracuse is playing.
They have adopted an active zone defense which has caused huge problems for offenses like Indiana. Their offense is efficient and they can get on the fast break when they need to but it isn't a necessity for success.
Syracuse is concerned with wins, not with lighting up the scoreboard. A special thanks for notching wins in the NCAA tournament can be awarded to their tight defense in low scoring, close games.
This formula has them heading to Atlanta to compete for a national championship.
Wichita State Shockers: A+
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Defeated: Pittsburgh, Gonzaga, La Salle and Ohio State.
A No. 9 seed in the Final Four?
Pretty impressive for a team that was merely given a shot and severely overlooked in their opening game of the tournament.
The Shockers took out both No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 Ohio State in the West region.
Any time a team can add that to their NCAA tournament resume, it is a safe bet that they have had the toughest path to get to where they are now.
Wichita State just keeps getting the job done and that's all that matters this time of year.
They game plan very well and stick to it throughout the course of a game. This could be seen distinctly in their Sweet 16 matchup with La Salle.
The Explorers were all guard-oriented so what does Wichita State do? They lob the ball inside on the very first possession, continue to pound it inside and cruise to victory.
The Shockers have gotten enormous contributions from big men Carl Hall and Cleanthony Early. Their interior scoring threats have opened up driving lanes for the likes of Malcolm Armstead, a guard who doesn't hesitate from taking shots, especially when he sees them dropping.
This is a team that does not shy away from the bright lights and makes plays down the stretch. Taking out the top two seeds in their bracket, Wichita State has shown just how dangerous they are and that they do not care what the name says on the front of the jersey.
Wichita State's success story continues to the Final Four, where they will look to continue their physical play on the inside.