The second largest crowd to ever attend a Final Four session got its money's worth on Saturday, as Wichita State flirted for two hours with one of the biggest upsets in semifinal history, and Michigan avoided a last-minute collapse to hang on and beat a game Syracuse squad.
Here are five major takeaways from all that was at the Final Four on Saturday.
1. Cardinals And Wolverines Both Win With Their Bench
A lot of coaches will tell you that depth is overrated, especially in the NCAA Tournament where it feels like there's an extended stoppage of play every two minutes or so. Still, it's hard to overlook the importance the role the guys who didn't start played for both the victors on Saturday.
Bench players for Louisville and Michigan combined to shoot 76 percent (19-for-25) from the field in the national semifinals. The teams' starters, on the other hand, hit just 31 percent of their field goal attempts. Louisville's Luke Hancock was the star of non-starter stars, scoring 20 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including 3-for-5 from beyond the arc, for the Cardinals.
2. Michigan Wins Despite Burke's Off Night
Trey Burke is the brightest star at the Final Four, but you wouldn't have known it on Saturday.
The Wooden Award winner and the Associated Press National Player of the Year was frustrated by Syracuse's zone all night and went just 1-for-8 from the field. He recorded three steals and turned the ball over only once, but he also scored just seven points. The sophomore came into the game averaging just a hair under 19.0 ppg.
"It was an off night for me," Burke said after the game. "I try not to force things, though. I took two or three shots that were kind of forced. But I tried to just get guys involved. I knew that their whole game plan was to try to make me shoot tough, contested threes. I tried to get the ball into the middle as much as possible, tried to hit the open man, tried to contribute in different ways other than scoring."
That's all well and good, but Michigan's premier offensive threat is probably going to have to be more of one if the Wolverines want to cut down the nets on Monday.
3. Unlikely Hero For Louisville
When Rick Pitino was asked about replacing injured guard Kevin Ware earlier this week, the Cardinal coach was adamant that the feat wasn't possible. Pitino said that walk-on Tim Henderson would play "and do a good job," but added that Henderson was obviously incapable of providing the same spark that a dynamic athlete like Ware could. He said the only way for Louisville to make up for the loss of Ware was for regular contributors like Wayne Blackshear to take their games to the next level.
Instead, Blackshear scored zero points in nine minutes for U of L on Saturday, and Henderson may have hit the two biggest shots of the game.
With Louisville trailing by 12 points in the second half and appearing to be headed for the wrong end of one of the biggest upsets in the history of the Final Four, it was the junior walk-on who let fly with a three-pointer to try and stop the bleeding. He did not miss. Forty-two seconds later it was Henderson again drilling a huge shot from beyond the arc to get the Cardinals right back within striking distance. The six points in less than a minute matched Henderson's point total from the previous two months. Lousiville's season is probably over without those six points.
The two clutch shots shocked the bulk of the 72,000 plus in attendance at the Georgia Dome, but there was one guy who didn't blink when it happened.
When he was asked earlier in the week how he'd feel when the moment he usually checked into the game rolled around, Kevin Ware dodged the question and gave an unusual answer at the same time: "I'll feel like Tim is going to come into the game and knock down a couple threes."
Ware's first words to reporters in the locker room on Saturday night? "Told ya."
4. Monday's Championship Game Is Perfect
Louisville/Michigan might be a battle of a No. 1 seed vs. a No. 4 seed, but it's also a showdown between Ken Pomeroy's top-rated offensive team (the Wolverines) and his top-rated defensive team (the Cardinals).
U of L is second in the country in turnover percentage (27.3 percent), but they only forced Wichita State to give the ball up four times over the first 33 minutes of Saturday night's game. The task only gets tougher against Trey Burke and a Michigan squad that has the lowest turnover percentage in the country at 14.5 perent.
The game is also a solid showdown between youth and experience. Though they're not quite the 2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats, Michigan does boast three freshmen and a sophomore in its starting lineup. Louisville, on the other hand, goes senior, junior, junior, sophomore, sophomore with it starting five.
5. The Best Way To Land Tickets In Atlanta
Tickets were pretty difficult to come by for a number of fans who made the trip down to Atlanta on Saturday, and even more folks are scrambling to guarantee their entrance for Monday's championship game. If you're looking to take a shot in the dark to try and score a pair of free tickets, here's an insider tip ...
Scalping is illegal within 2,700 feet of the Georgia Dome, but naturally there are still a lot of lawbreakers out there (McConaughey voice). On two separate occasions now I've witnessed a cop walking up to a scalper, that scalper noticing the officer out of the corner of their eye and changing their shouts of "two tickets" or whatever to "free tickets" in order to avoid arrest.
If you get extremely desperate on Monday, spend a little time within 2,700 feet of the dome, hope this phenomenon occurs and then quickly accept the scalper's free ticket offer while the officer is nearby. You might have to run right after it happens, but whatever, you're fast.
For the second straight year, the folks at the Final Four gave away commemorative seat cushions to each attendee of Saturday's games. Also for the second straight year, the vast majority of those cushions wound up being chucked into the air by the folks sitting in the upper sections. This time, it was the game-sealing dunk by Michigan's Jordan Morgan which set off the impromptu aerial show.
As cool as it makes the scene look and as fun as it is to watch unsuspecting spectators get hit in the head by flying objects, this is probably a trend that needs to stop.