How amazing has this year's NCAA tournament been?
Wichita State, a No. 9 seed, reached the Final Four. Florida Gulf Coast became the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16. Three No. 1 seeds were eliminated by the Sweet 16. There were upsets galore and brackets ripped to pieces in record time.
But here, I'm not interested in all of the many amazing moments of the tournament. Instead, I'd like to focus on some of the amazing moments provided by the two teams that will meet for the championship, Louisville and Michigan.
Both teams had opposite paths to the title. Michigan started strong, slumped late and entered as a No. 4 seed. Louisville closed the season with 10 straight wins, won a share of the Big East regular-season title, won the conference tournament and was named the NCAA tournament's top overall seed.
Now, a deep and defensively sound Louisville team takes on an exciting Michigan team with plenty of NBA talent. Let's take a look at some of the highlights on each team's run to the title game.
Mitch McGary Becomes a Star
If you weren't terribly familiar with Mitch McGary before the season began, you could hardly be blamed. He didn't even start for Michigan until mid-February, after all, when Jordan Morgan went down with an injury.
But he's been this tournament's breakout star and looks like a sure lottery pick if he decides to enter the draft after just one season at Michigan. McGary has averaged 16 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game, and has given the Wolverines an entirely new dimension on offense.
New stars are born at every tournament, and McGary has blossomed in front of America's eyes.
The Response to Kevin Ware's Injury
Kevin Ware's gruesome injury against Duke obviously wasn't a highlight of this tournament. In fact, it was the tourney's scariest moment. But the way in which the Louisville players have rallied around their fallen teammate and the inspiration Ware has proved in the wake of his injury has been truly memorable.
There was the moment just after the injury, as detailed by Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports:
Yet in the midst of his agony, Ware did the most remarkable thing. Courageously, selflessly, he thought of his teammates.
The stoic, soft-spoken sophomore from outside Atlanta told coach Rick Pitino over and over, "Just win the game. I'm OK. Just win the game."
Pitino urgently called his grief-stricken players over to listen to Ware. As they closed in around him, the coach placed a hand on Ware's right arm. Peyton Siva held Ware's right hand. Wayne Blackshear held his left.
Ware looked up at his teammates and said it five more times.
"Just win the game. I'm OK. Just win the game."
In a flash, Ware turned his horrific injury from a distraction—some of his teammates were openly crying on the court after seeing the bone protruding through his leg—to a source of inspiration, as Louisville ended up crushing the Blue Devils, 85-63.
Had Ware not told his teammates he was OK and to just win the game, who knows if Louisville could have recovered.
Then there was Ware standing to cheer and joining his teammates in the huddle during the Final Four game against Wichita State. If that didn't get you a little choked up, nothing will.
And the way Louisville's players and fans have responded to Ware's injury has been truly wonderful to see as well. It has been a reminder in a week when so much has looked grim in college athletics that being a part of a team and community still means more than wins and losses.
We all want to forget about the moment Ware was injured. But how he has handled the situation and how his teammates rallied behind him has been a truly wonderful story amidst Louisville's run to the championship game.
Trey Burke Sends Michigan Into Overtime Against Kansas
For my money, this was the moment of the tournament.
Kansas led by 14 points with 6:50 remaining in the game, but the Wolverines would come storming back in a furious late-game rally that saw Burke score 15 points down the stretch, including his long-range bomb to tie the game that literally made me jump to my feet and run out of the room.
Yes, it was that amazing.
From there, Michigan would go on to win, 87-85, in overtime. If Michigan goes on to win a national championship, Burke's shot will always be Michigan's Christian Laettner moment.
Louisville Comes Back Late to Beat Wichita State in Final Four
The Cardinals mostly dominated the opposition en route to the Final Four, with the closest game being an eight-point victory over Oregon in the Sweet 16. The Cardinals peaked at the right time this season, and came into Saturday's game against Wichita State on the heels of 14 straight wins.
But the pesky Shockers weren't intimidated, and held a 12-point lead on Louisville with 13:35 to play in the second half. That's when Louisville came to life.
The Cardinals outscored Wichita State 37-21 in the final 13 minutes, forced seven turnovers in the final seven minutes and proved once again that a bit of adversity wasn't going to stop the tournament's top seed.
Nik Stauskas Can't Miss Against Florida
Michigan's offensive prowess was on full display against Florida in the Elite Eight, as the Wolverines rolled to an easy 79-59 win. Florida's defense had no answer for Michigan's talented starting five.
But sharpshooter Nik Stauskas stood out. He finished with 22 points on 7-for-8 shooting from the field, and was 6-for-6 beyond the arc. At one point, I think everyone was waiting for him to turn to the press box and give a Michael Jordan shrug.
Florida had proven to play excellent defense throughout the year, but Michigan's stars absolutely shredded them. But the moment I'll always remember from that game was Stauskas' inability to miss.
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