Brackets have been broken. Wings have been consumed. The dancing on Duke's grave is just about done, and the magical spell of Florida Gulf Coast has run out. Yes, we're in the dusty aftermath, the nadir of excitement of the NCAA tournament(s) — we're in the Final Four. Because you probably didn't go to Wichita State, and because you'll probably find yourself talked out when it comes to Louisville's Kevin Ware, here's a (not particularly avid) fan's guide to the rest of the weekend in hoops:
There are still four teams still in contention in both the men's and women's tournaments. The men play on Saturday night, with the championship game on Monday, all on CBS; the women face off Sunday and Tuesday, over on ESPN.
The (Men's) Teams
Louisville (red and white), Wichita State (black and yellow), University of Michigan (blue and yellow), Syracuse (orange—that's also the team name: Orange).
The Compelling Case to Root for Syracuse: Jim Boeheim. This is actually one of the more likable Syracuse teams in a while, and Boeheim recently became the first coach to lead a team to a Final Four in each of the past four decades. Also, too, this:
The Compelling Case to Root for Louisville: Kevin Ware. Chances are you've heard about Louisville's backup guard and either seen stories about his horrific injury in the Elite Eight last Sunday, or stories debating whether or not you should watch his horrific injury, or stories about his recovery from said horrific injury. Ware is from Atlanta, and to play in the Georgia Dome for the Final Four would've been a homecoming of sorts for him. But he's there anyway, and he's doing okay. "I'll recover and I'll be fine," he said at a brief appearance at Wednesday's pre-game press conference with coach Rick Pitino. "We still got two more games to win."
The Compelling Case to Root for Michigan: Trey Burke. That is all. The Wolverines's sophomore is one of those players who plays better when his team's backs is up against the wall. You'll likely see him in the NBA next year. And suffice to say the Kansas players weren't the only ones to witness the wonder of Trey this March:
The Compelling Case to Root for Wichita State: The impostor Cinderellas. Because, really, Cinderellas are supposed to be teams that never win on the national stage, the teams that go on a magical run out of nowhere. And that is not the Wichita State Shockers. For the past four seasons, the team has garnered at least 25 wins, and Gregg Marshall's squad currently has 30 in this half-magical run. Meek and miled the Shockers are not. "They play hard, they play smart, they play together and above all they brim with confidence," writes ESPN's Eamon Brennan. "They always believe they're the best team on the floor."
If none of those are compelling enough arguments, or you can't find a jersey color to like, then you probably want to start paying attention.... now. First off, you want to make sure you know the company you'll be keeping this Saturday night. If you're in a house where people are wearing Gerry McNamara jerseys, you are in the company of Syracuse diehards... or you might just be in Scranton — in either case, don't talk about Georgetown. If you hear a lot of talk about this being the year and the Fab Five, you're in a Michigan-friendly bar, and it's best not to talk about Michigan State unless it's about how much they stink. (Also: Beware the timeout count.) Louisville fans will say the word "Louisville" all funny, even though they're not from there, and then they will tell you a lot about John Calipari and how many titles he's vacated. And yes, you're hearing that right — Wichita State's team calls itself the Shockers, and the Wichita State people like it when you ask them what that is.
The (Women's) Teams
Louisville (red and black), University of California at Berkeley (navy and gold), UConn (blue and white), Notre Dame (gold, green, and navy).
The Compelling Case to Root for Louisville: They're the underdogs. One thing you have to remember about the women's tourney is that upsets don't really exist in the later stages of the tournament. This has to do with the majority of the best recruits going to the same ten schools over and over. The fifth-seeded Louisville women have taken down powerhouses like Baylor and Tennessee.
The Compelling Case to Root for Cal: Cal is sort of like Stanford's neglected little sister. They've always been in the Shadow of their Bay Area neighbor who just missed out on going to Final Four for the sixth-straight year. For anyone that's ever been the middle child or felt like one, or rooted for Cory Matthews—this is your team.
The Compelling Case to Root for UConn: You like playing favorites and you like your favorites to not only win, but win by 35 points running away. That's what UConn does and has been doing for the past decade, except when it comes to Notre Dame.
The Compelling Case to Root for Notre Dame: Lil Wayne is rooting for them (we think). Well see, he made a bit of news a year ago when he declared he had a crush on Skylar Diggins. Sure Weezy thinks Diggins is attractive and we're guessing WNBA marketers think so too, but we're impressed with how she plays ball—she's considered a top-three pick in this year's WNBA draft.
Shoni Schimmel: The Magician. Sorry, Trey Burke — that bucket in the video above was nice, but the shot of the tournament so far belongs to Louisville's Schimmel (even Jay Bilas agrees). That shot, in the ladies' Sweet Sixteen, saw the 5'9" Schimmel go coast-to-coast, perform a shifty behind-the-back dribble, and then sink a reverse layup (below at right) over the condor-like wingspan of Baylor's 6'8" Brittney Griner, the most prolific shot-blocker in NCAA women's history.
Schimmel, who is of Native American descent, was the subject of Off the Rez, a documentary about her and her family's battle to start a life outside the Umatilla Indian Reservation, in Pendleton, Oregon. Her story, like her play, is amazing, inspiring, and worth watching this weekend and beyond.
Skylar Diggins: The Boss. Diggins is a leader. Notre Dame was supposed to be in a rebuilding year, and the Fighting Irish weren't even picked to be in the top five to start the year. They lost too much, said the women's hoops analysts. Diggins will have to lead, they said. And she did — it might not always be pretty, but the Irish haven't lost since December and Diggins is in a National Championship game for the second time in two years.
Kaleena Mosqueda Lewis: The Shooter. There's really not that big of a difference in distance between the men's and women's game when it comes to the three-point line. And if you pushed back the line three more feet, it probably wouldn't dent the 49 percent shooting percentage from beyond the arc for UConn's sharpshooter — because she's that good.
Ron Baker: The Secret. One of the more intriguing story lines is the emergence of Wichita State's star forward. Baker's three-month absence due to injury actually worked to he and the Sccadvantage, because teams couldn't scout him. In an age where you can YouTube anything and find anything on the web, Baker's disappearance and emergence in the tourney has worked wonders for the shockers. "Baker has shot 8-of-15 from 2, 11-of-26 from 3, and 24-of-27 from the free throw line. He has 24 rebounds and 10 turnovers," Brennan writes.
Trey Burke: The Closer. There was that moment in the second half of Kansas's Sweet Sixteen matchup with Michigan that I switched the channel. Up by 14 with some six minutes left, I figured my bracket was still intact and decided to see if Duke's matchup with Michigan State had already happened. Then Trey Burke happened. Feel free to scroll up to watch that bench reaction video one more time.
Michael Carter Williams: The Length. Syracuse isn't going to surprise anyone, ever. They will come out in a zone defense, and at the top of it will be Williams — a 6'6" point guard who is the floor general for Syracuse's dominant D, averaging around three steals per game. Williams will have his hands full against Burke... but the 6'0" Burke will also have to deal with shooting over a man six inches taller than him.
Peyton Siva: The Carver. There are people you work with who make your job easier. That's what Louisville's chin-bearded point guard does for the Cardinals, averaging 9 points and 6 assists per game. But you can't fully appreciate Siva until you seem him on the court, dancing around defenders, cutting through the lane, and setting his teammates up for layups. His speed and pressure on the ball single-handedly dismantled Duke in the second half of the Elite Eight, making a pretty great Blue Devils team look pedestrian. Some highlights from the senior's earlier days at Louisville:
But What About ...
Oh, right. As with all Final Fours, story lines come to a close, the "One Shining Moment" reel plays, and the season ends. It's sort of the worst part when you wind down to the end of the beauty that is the tournament. March Madness gets kinda sad in April. The Cinderellas have been asked to return their slippers and spend another year waiting for the dance, Duke's loss has left absolutely no one with a common enemy to root against, and Kentucky — wait, what happened to Kentucky?
Kentucky Is Fine and Will Be Fine. The Wildcats were sort of embarrassing. Last year's national champion didn't evan make the tournament this year, partly because of everyone who graduated and partly because their prized recruit, Nerlens Noel, was injured. Then they lost in the NIT. In the first round. But don't feel bad for these guys. They reloaded with a top recruiting class, featuring six Mcdonald's All-Americans — and what some are saying is the best freshman crop in college-basketball history.
Brittney Griner Will Continue to Be Amazing and Controversial. One of the great stories that ended far too early early was the Baylor superstar and her Baylor team, which was taken out by Shoni Schimmel's Louisville squad in a hotly-contested Sweet Sixteen matchup. But the 6'8" center absolutely changed the game on the defensive end and is the surefire No. 1 pick in the upcoming WNBA draft. Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, has even toyed (and toyed with the media) about drafting her. Although, according to UConn Hall of Fame Coach Geno Auriemma, that's just a PR stunt:
The fact that a woman could actually play right now in the NBA and compete successfully against the level of play that they have is absolutely ludicrous.
...and Ask Your Friends if they Saw This ...
... because that isn't Brandi Chastain trying to remove a tiny jacket. That's Baylor's Coach Kim Mulkey Robertson, reacting to a call in that Sweet Sixteen matchup, which Baylor lost after being favored by more than 20 points. She then proceeded to rip the refs after the game, saying this: "I thought that all three of [the officials], if they go past this round of officiating, it will be sad for the game." Those are fighting words. But they'll have to wait till next year.
... and Speaking of Next Year... As soon as this season ends, the Big East is done. And this year, their members comprise two of the four men's Final Four teams and three of the women's. It might be a long time before that happens again, especially with the conference's terrible new name.
And in Case That Doesn't Get You Excited ...
We also have some old standby conversation-starters. So, if you find yourself drifting somewhere between a chicken wing coma and a group of grumpy people buzzing, stick to these:
- The NCAA has trademarked Final Four, Elite Eight, and Sweet Sixteen.
- These wings are good. (People think their wings are better.)