The bracket began with 68 squads vying for a national trophy. Millions of Americans scribbled down the names of "winners" before finally filling in the final two title contenders.
If you selected Louisville and Michigan to meet in Atlanta Monday evening, congratulations. For the rest of us, it's an opportunity to reassess the situation and watch a champion emerge in the final men's college basketball contest of the 2012-13 campaign.
Prognosticators across the country are chiming in with their championship game predictions. Monday night's matchup presents a compelling clash between two historically relevant teams.
Louisville, the tournament's top overall seed, is on quite a roll. The Cardinals have collected 15 consecutive victories and haven't lost in regulation since Jan. 26.
Michigan stumbled down the final stretch of its Big Ten schedule, but it has emerged as a dynamic force en route to the program's first Final Four appearance since the "Fab Five" gained fame. Since losing six of 11 conference contests, the Wolverines have won five straight to reach the doorstep of college hoops immortality.
From the moment the bracket was released to the public on Selection Sunday, "experts" have aimed to predict its ultimate victor. With 66 squads fallen by the wayside, here's how some of the nation's top college basketball analysts envision the tourney finale unfolding.
Jeff Goodman, CBS
The pick: Louisville 68, Michigan 64
The reasoning: "I picked the Cardinals before the season to cut down the nets in Atlanta, and I'm not about to change now," he wrote.
"Trey Burke turned the ball over seven times against VCU, so expect Louisville's pressure to bother the National Player of the Year. Michigan may have a talent edge, but it's young and will be rattled by Louisville's defense."
Matt Norlander, Eyes on College Basketball
The pick: Louisville 71, Michigan 65
The reasoning: "The Cardinals have the best points-per-possession defense in the past 10 years," stated Norlander. They are dominant, they are the sport's best. Monday night, they'll prove it."
Andy Glockner, SI.com
The pick: Michigan over Louisville (no final score guess)
The reasoning: "Neither team played well Saturday, but the Wolverines look like they’re the team with more options at this point. If the Cardinals can’t create turnovers (like most of the game against Wichita State), their offense can look extremely average for long stretches," Glockner stated.
"Michigan’s defense has been much improved in the tournament and Trey Burke and Co. should be comfortable enough with the ball not to feed the Louisville Machine and enable them to keep pressing their advantage."
Gregg Doyel, CBS
The pick: Michigan 62, Louisville 61
The reasoning: "Michigan has the country's most beautiful offense, though Louisville's pressure can turn your offense into a puddle of turnovers. But minus injured Kevin Ware, Louisville doesn't have the manpower to turn up the heat for 40 minutes," Doyel wrote.
"Will Michigan score enough to prevent the Cardinals from rallying as they did vs. Wichita State? No idea, and no idea how hard Louisville pushes. Want me to take a stand? OK. Louisville's inability to play its game for 40 minutes gives Michigan just enough room."
Sean Bielawski, Bleacher Report
The pick: Michigan 68, Louisville 65
The reasoning: "Even though Louisville is the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament and Michigan is a No. 4 seed, the Wolverines have more NBA talent on their roster," said our very own columnist.
"No one protects the ball better than Michigan, and with their newfound offensive balance with McGary down low, the Wolverines will win their first national title since 1989."
Jerry Palm, acclaimed bracketologist
The pick: Louisville 80, Michigan 72
The reasoning: "Both teams escaped with Final Four wins despite bad performances from key guys. Michigan's Trey Burke had a miserable day and Nik Stauskas was shutout in the win over Syracuse, Palm explained."
"Gorgui Dieng, Wayne Blackshear and Peyton Siva were virtual no-shows for Louisville vs. Wichita State. Part of that was because they faced smothering defenses. Look for more offense, but the Cardinals' defense is more consistent, and that wins this game."
Stay tuned for more expert predictions and opinions as they continue to fly in throughout Monday.