When all of the pageantry, media requests and basking in the momentous accomplishment subsides, the four teams descending upon Atlanta for the 2013 Final Four have, you know, basketball games to play on Saturday.
The accomplishment of making it to the Final Four means banners will be raised, yucks will be had and five-year anniversary banquets have already been booked. But without cutting down the nets in Atlanta, the journey will forever get marked as incomplete for these four teams. You don't get this far and escape the obstacles of four games against the nation's best just to receive a participation banner.
These players and coaches are after rings—nothing more, nothing less. Even No. 9 seed Wichita State, the Big Dance's last remaining "Cinderella" squad, has nothing but NCAA title glory on its minds. After all, if Butler can come within one Gordon Hayward half-court shot of winning a title against Duke, why can't the Shockers overcome Louisville?
It's a question—along with which national power, Michigan or Syracuse, will meet the winner of that matchup—that will be answered on the Georgia Dome floor on Saturday.
But as we build up to those contests, let's take a complete look at everything you need to know about Saturday's Final Four matchups.
No. 1 Louisville Cardinals vs. No. 9 Wichita State Shockers
When: Saturday, April 6 at 6:09 p.m. ET
Where: Georgia Dome in Atlanta
Stream: March Madness Live
Betting Line: Louisville (-10.5)
Final Four matchups aren't supposed to make fans groan in anticipation of a blowout. They're supposed to be clashes of the titans, two great college basketball teams doing battle en route to the victor competing for a national championship. Double-digit spreads are meant to be a thing of the past, left somewhere vacationing with the North Carolina A&T coaching staff.
Someone forgot to tell the oddsmakers and Wichita State how things are supposed to be. The Shockers dispatched No. 2 seed Ohio State in the Elite Eight, capturing the West Region title to the shock (pun intended...duh) of just about everyone not directly associated with the Wichita State program.
So instead of an Ohio State-Louisville matchup that would surely satiate the desires of power conferences, we'll get to see if this Cinderella story can continue to Monday's national championship game.
As it has in just about every previous matchup—save for the Sweet 16 against No. 13 La Salle—all signs point to the Shockers' clock striking midnight.
Objectively, this should be a blowout waiting to happen. Louisville has looked better than any other team throughout the tournament, including Sunday's drubbing of Duke that was as heroic as it was impressive. Following Kevin Ware's gruesome leg injury, the Cardinals rallied in their worst possible moment and pulverized Duke into submission the same way they had other teams all tourney long.
Even though the emotional high of playing for Ware will subside a bit—on the basis of natural attrition only—Louisville remains the most dominant team in the nation. Rick Pitino's squad has won its four tournament games by a combined 89 points and has won 14 straight games overall.
The Cardinals have ascended to the fifth-most efficient offense in college basketball, helping match their defense that has been the nation's most efficient most of the season. They force turnovers at the second-best rate in the nation, which should come in handy against a Wichita State team that ranks 144th in offensive turnover rate.
Wichita State's Malcolm Armstead has been great, but no individual has been better than Louisville's Russ Smith this March. Smith has scored no fewer than 23 points in any tournament game thus far and has been the driving force behind Louisville's defensive brilliance.
To put it simply: Louisville is just better. In every single facet of the game—better. Wichita State has had a nice run, but it ends in pretty disappointing fashion on Saturday night.
Score Prediction: Louisville 72, Wichita State 57
No. 4 Michigan Wolverines vs. No. 4 Syracuse Orange
When: Saturday, April 6 at 8:49 p.m. ET
Where: Georgia Dome in Atlanta
Stream: March Madness Live
Betting Line: Michigan (-2)
From a pure basketball perspective, there has been only one more interesting matchup in the entire tournament—Michigan's round of 32 demolishing of fifth-seeded Virginia Commonwealth. That was an intriguing matchup because it marked the nation's best player, Trey Burke, facing off against one of the nation's most intense, pulse-pounding defense.
The actual game, though? It completely failed to live up to its hype. The Wolverines took VCU to the mid-major woodshed where they belonged, as Burke and Mitch McGary's two-man inside-out weave sent the Rams packing.
Burke and Co. will again face off against an interesting defensive team in Saturday's Final Four matchup—just in a completely different way.
Syracuse's 2-3 defense is suffocating and mind-numbingly hard to solve, only on a polar opposite side of the pace spectrum. Whereas VCU wanted to fluster you with bodies flying around all over the place, the Orange crush souls by pounding them into submissive paces, choking the life from any semblance of offensive rhythm.
Their defense is billed as a 2-3, but is only that way as teams bring the ball up the floor. Jim Boeheim's intricate weaving of defensive rotations shows flashes of a standard 2-3, matchup zones and just about any other set you can imagine.
Syracuse is, for lack of better term, amorphous on the defensive end. The Orange have a set rotation for just about everything an opposing offense does, and their discipline and execution allow few (if any) holes.
They pulled off nothing short of a virtuoso performance against Marquette in the Elite Eight. Syracuse's defense was so crisp, so precise that Marquette's already awful outside shooters looked only slightly better than a high school team. It was, frankly, impossible to watch—an aesthetic horror film that would make James Naismith want to cut down the peach basket and give up.
The first time Michigan faced a tough defense, the Wolverines broke its back with expert ball movement and a massive size advantage. They will need plenty of the former, because Rakeem Christmas and C.J. Fair make the latter non-existent against Syracuse.
And shooting has always been the way to take down a 2-3 defense—even one as fluid as Syracuse's. Marquette did not have any, Syracuse knew it and took advantage. Michigan is a top-25 team in the nation from three-point land and inside, making it far more difficult for the Orange to pack the inside with bodies.
That means Burke will need to play like his second-half-and-overtime-against-Kansas self than his first-half malaise. The likely Player of the Year winner has been inconsistent in the Big Dance, at times ascending and other times folding like a beach chair being packed away for winter.
Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nick Stauskas will also have to take an integral shooting role, as McGary and Glenn Robinson III will likely have their effect mitigated. It's not going to be easy or a blowout like the first game.
But with Syracuse still struggling to find any consistent semblance of offense, look for Michigan to get just enough shooting to come away with a victory.
Score Prediction: Michigan 68, Syracuse 62
All advanced stats are via KenPom.com unless otherwise noted.
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