Depending on who you ask, Rick Pitino is among the most revered and reviled college basketball coaches in the country. The 60-year-old New York native is passionate, candid and occasionally controversial.
From the white suits and big wins to a fiery stint as head coach of the Boston Celtics, his coaching tenures have always demanded attention. Pitino has an opportunity to punctuate his 12th season at the Cardinals' helm with an elusive national title.
He leads Louisville, the tournament's No. 1 overall seed, into the Final Four for the second straight season and third time since 2005.
Meanwhile, a bracket-buster of epic proportions awaits in Atlanta.
Wichita State eliminated each of the top two seeds in its Midwest Region bracket. The Shockers stunned No. 1 Gonzaga in the Round of 32, sent upstart La Salle packing in the Sweet 16 and overcame No. 2 Ohio State in Saturday's Elite Eight showdown.
Coach Greg Marshall garnered accolades for his previous efforts at Winthrop, where he reached the NCAA tournament seven of nine seasons before accepting the position at Wichita State in 2007. His Shockers surge into the Final Four for the first time since 1965.
Wichita State has embraced the underdog role throughout the postseason and will continue to wear that label in Atlanta. Louisville has looked like the nation's most dominant team during the last two months and enters the matchup a 10-point favorite.
The Shockers have proven prognosticators wrong throughout the tourney but must overcome some significant disadvantages in this latest test.
Here's a look at why Louisville and Pitino appear to have the upper hand come Saturday evening.
This is Pitino's seventh visit to the Final Four since 1987. The total ties him with North Carolina coach Roy Williams at fourth place all-time, behind only John Wooden (12), Mike Krzyzewski (11) and Dean Smith (11).
He took Providence on a memorable journey to the 1987 Final Four and built a NCAA tournament team at Boston University when he was 30 years old. Pitino dabbled in the professional ranks through stints with the Celtics and Knicks but never came close to matching his success at the college level.
He captured the 1996 national championship with Kentucky and recently wrapped up his third Big East tournament title run since 2007. Under Pitino's watch, Louisville has lasted until at least the Elite Eight in four of its last six seasons.
Gregg Marshall is accustomed to entering the tournament with few expectations from outside his program. Winthrop and Wichita State are each mid-majors that don't typically register on the national radar until a tournament run takes place like the one the Shockers are currently enjoying.
Until this March, Marshall struggled in the tourney. He suffered six straight first-round exits at Winthrop before beating Notre Dame in his final season with the Eagles.
Wichita State settled for NIT and CBI appearances during his first five seasons at the helm before breaking through to the big dance last year. The team lost its 2012 opener but has been on a tear this time around.
Two weeks ago, Marshall was 1-8 in his tournament career. Today, he's two wins away from taking the national championship.
A team tagged with championship-or-bust expectations long ago lived up to the hype in late March. Louisville earned a share of the regular season conference crown before capturing the Big East tournament title.
The Cardinals have cruised in the NCAA tourney, validating the squad's distinction as the bracket's overall No. 1 seed.
Louisville's players perform exceptionally well under the bright lights of showcase games and continue to prove they're not afraid of the national limelight.
Wichita State was the second-best team in the Missouri Valley Conference this season, behind MVC champion Creighton. It's a conference on the rise, but its publicity pales in comparison to the Big East.
Louisville spent most of its season playing on nationally televised broadcasts and there seems to be no stage too large for these Cardinals.
How the Shockers handle a week of Final Four hype remains a mystery.
Wichita State took the tournament by storm with relentless rebounding efforts and a balanced scoring attack.
Six Shockers players scored at least eight points against Ohio State and only senior guard Malcolm Armstead has tallied more than 18 points in a game (22 versus Pittsburgh in Round of 64).
Versatile forward Cleanthony Early leads Wichita State in scoring with just shy of 14 points per game. It remains to be seen whether the Shockers have a scoring threat capable of carrying the team if supplemental players fade in the Final Four.
That isn't a problem for the Cardinals, who are led by one of the nation's hottest players.
Junior guard Russ Smith has scored at least 23 points in all four tournament games, including a 31-point outburst against Oregon in the Sweet 16.
He is averaging 26 PPG in the tournament. Teammate Peyton Siva is also performing at a high level when it counts.
The two-time Big East tournament Most Valuable Player frustrated some with an inconsistent regular season but the senior is once again hitting his stride at the right time.
Siva is the defensive catalyst for a Cardinals squad founded on creating opportunities via turnovers.
The 6'1" guard scored 16 points and dished out four assists against Duke in the Elite Eight.
When Louisville leaps out to a large lead with a furious surge, Siva is often the spark behind it.
Pitino fully trusts his team at this point. That starts with his dynamic backcourt stars.
The Cardinals have clobbered teams during the latter course of a challenging schedule.
Since suffering three straight defeats in late January, Louisville is unbeaten in regulation (lost to Notre Dame on Feb. 9 in a five-overtime thriller).
The list of teams left in the Cardinals' wake during a commanding run is eye-opening.
Louisville is 6-0 against opponents ranked in the AP Top 25 poll during its 14-game win streak, including a pair of victories over nationally ranked tournament foes last weekend.
The Cardinals upended Pac-12 champion Oregon 77-69 in the Sweet 16 and dominated Duke throughout the second half of a 85-63 Elite Eight victory. The Blue Devils are among a slew of squads to severely stumble against Pitino's team and let the game slip away.
Louisville defeated fellow Final Four participant Syracuse 78-61 in the Big East tournament title game, despite a sizable early Orange advantage. The Cardinals then dismantled No. 24 Notre Dame 69-57 in the conference semifinals.
Wichita State impressed with a win over Gonzaga in the Round of 32, but the Bulldogs were the least-respected No. 1 seed in recent tournament history.
The Shockers bullied the Buckeyes during stretches of Saturday's Elite Eight clash, but the team's track record against the nation's elite simply doesn't stand up to what Pitino and company have accomplished in 2013.
The Cardinals are taking on all comers and cruising past them with peerless precision.