The madness of March is gone and the anticipation of April starts as the Wichita State Shockers, Louisville Cardinals, Michigan Wolverines, and Syracuse Orange all sit just a stones throw away from the NCAA Tournament title game.
Each of the two Final Four games on Saturday offers plenty of intrigue and excitement. The No. 9 Shockers continue their Cinderella run as they go up against the overall No. 1 Cardinals, who are coming off of an emotional victory over the No. 2 Duke Blue Devils in the Elite Eight. On the other side of the bracket, the high-octane offense of the No. 4 Wolverines will have to break through the confounding zone defense No. 4 Syracuse employs to great success.
In the first game of the afternoon, the world will see if Wichita State's storybook March run continues at all in April. The Shockers are just the fifth No. 9 seed or higher to reach the Final Four since seeding began in 1979, and are the first team from the Missouri Valley Conference to make the Final Four since a Larry Bird led Indiana State team in 1979.
On paper, the Cardinals seem to hold a statistical edge over the Shockers in close to every category but rebounding. But Wichita State hasn't backed down as they dismantled Pittsburgh, upset the No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs, shattered La Salle's Cinderella dreams and then grinded out a tough win over the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Shockers aren't a stranger to the Final Four, they just don't decide to visit too often. Wichita State last made an appearance in 1965, where they lost to the eventual NCAA champion UCLA Bruins.
Louisville is coming off a big 22-point win over the Blue Devils in the Elite Eight, a victory that was marred by the horrific leg injury suffered by backup guard Kevin Ware during the game. Ware underwent two hours of surgery to repair his broken leg, but the Cardinals gutted out an inspirational win in the name of their fallen teammate after tears were shed an entire arena stood visibly shaken during the near nine-minute injury mid-game break. The win was just another dominating performance for the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. It is the second consecutive Final Four appearance for Louisville.
Michigan and Syracuse will provide an interesting matchup in the second game of the evening. The Wolverines boast the most efficient offense in the nation, according to Kenpom ratings, while the Orange have the fifth-stiffest defense. Guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. lead Michigan, and although Hardaway's jump shot has suffered during the tournament, Burke has been the team MVP so far. His long 3-pointer in the waning seconds of regulation against the Kansas Jayhawks forced overtime in a 87-85 win in the Sweet 16.
Syracuse's famed zone defense has been on display the whole tournament, where they have held opponents to just 45.8 points a game. Against Marquette in the Elite Eight, they held the Golden Eagles to just 39 points, a record low in the Elite Eight since the shot clock was introduced in 1986. It is the fifth appearance for the Orange in the Final Four, and the fourth since Jim Boeheim took over. The last time Syracuse made the Final Four was in 2003, when Carmelo Anthony would eventually lead them to a national title.
No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 9 Wichita State, 6:09 p.m. ET, CBS
No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 4 Syracuse, 8:49 p.m. ET, CBS