Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -Louisville is the only top seed making the trip to Atlanta for this year's Final Four but it will not be the only squad there flaunting top tier talent.
The Cardinals resembled a wrecking ball after halftime in their regional final matchup against Duke. After losing sophomore guard Kevin Ware to a gruesome leg injury, they put on an emotionally charged display to adhere to the orders yelled out by their fallen teammate as he was carried off on a stretcher.
"Basically, the bone popped out of the skin. It broke in two spots," coach Rick Pitino said. "Remember the bone is six inches out of his leg, and all he's yelling is `Win the game, win the game.' I've never seen anything like that."
Peyton Siva spurred that ran and looked unstoppable as he sped around defenders on his way to the tin. The Blue Devils looked like they were gonna be competitive before their backcourt started to crumble against Louisville's relentless defensive pressure. Pitino's tough defensive principles helped the Cardinals set the NCAA tournament record with 20 steals in a game. A record his 1987 Providence team held with 19. Louisville is loaded with NBA bound talent and is riding a wave of momentum into the national semifinals.
Coming into the tournament, the team from the Missouri Valley Conference everyone was talking about was Creighton, and for good reason. The Bluejays were coming off of a win over Wichita State in the conference tournament championship game led by an impressive performance by All-American Doug McDermott. Creighton managed to advance to the second round before being sent home for the summer by Duke.
The Shockers meanwhile, haven't lost since falling to 'Jays. Gregg Marshall's squad manhandled Pittsburgh, upset a No. 1 seed and then produce a double- digit victory over La Salle. On Saturday, they jumped out to another big lead as they had Ohio State on the ropes. The Buckeyes nearly came back late in the second half, but the Shockers held their ground in the final stages to survive.
"We're so balanced and deep as a team. Each guy brings something new to the table and I've got great teammates," said freshman guard Fred VanVleet. "Different people step up at different times and its all about knowing your role."
VanVleet mad a last minute field goal to help the Shockers survive their head- to-head with the Buckeyes. Wichita State has got it done in a variety ways, as it manages to attack the rim when it needs to and also hit on outside jumpers when granted. It has also been able to set a great example of how to play team basketball, especially defensively, to this point. The Shockers will once again be huge underdogs, but they don't seem to mind the role. They knocked off the Big Ten Conference champion, so why not the Big East's as well?
The other semifinals matchup was also determined on Sunday as Michigan rolled past Florida. Trey Burke may be the most dynamic player for his size in college basketball since Allen Iverson wore a Hoyas uniform. The determined floor general produced 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists to follow up his memorable performance in the Sweet 16 versus Kansas.
The Wolverines may be a four seed, but they were once considered the number one team in the nation. And that was before the emergence of freshman forward Mitch McGary, who has been sensational through the run. Nik Stauskas was unbelievable versus Florida on Sunday, knocking down all six of his 3-point attempts to help his team collect a 20-point win. This will be the first Final Four for the school since the Fab Five.
"Seeing it all come together, I don't what to say," sixth-year Wolverines coach John Beilein said. "I'm a little bit speechless."
It really didn't even all come together on Sunday. The Wolverines not only won by 20 points, but they did so with their top two weapons submitting sub-par performances by their standards. Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Burke combined to go 8- of-29 from the floor, but Michigan received some much needed help from reserve Spike Albrecht and Jon Horford, who combined to go 6-of-7 from the field. The odds that Burke and Hardaway, Jr. both struggling again are not very high.
It will be interesting to see how Burke matches up with Syracuse's Michael Carter-Williams, whose game resembles a young Anfernee Hardaway. The Orange's sophomore point guard earned the East Regional MVP award after tallying a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds in a very physical affair against Marquette.
"I just really can't say enough about how good these guys played on the defensive end of the court," said head coach Jim Boeheim. " They were just tremendous, we gave Marquette 74 points four or five weeks ago."
The Golden Eagles' 39 points were a record low for a team in an NCAA tournament regional final since the shot clock was introduced in 1986. Syracuse has held its last four opponents to an average of 45.8 pg. It was a very productive team offensively during the regular season as well with an average of 71.3 ppg. C.J. Fair, Brandon Triche and James Southerland are all capable of going off in any given contest. Boeheim's second title could be imminent if the Orange stay stingy defensively.
Now with just four teams left in the hunt for the national crown, it is still an open race. Will Wichita State be able to handle Louisville's mother-in-law defense? Can Burke and company crack Syracuse's 2-3 zone? This March has been unpredictable, now it's see what April has in store for us.
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