Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

April 5, 2013

And then there were four...

By Justin Whitaker

INDIANAPOLIS — The NCAA Final Four in Atlanta this weekend serves as a fair representation of the 2012-13 season of college basketball.

In a year where it seemed like anything could happen and teams ranked No. 1 seemingly dropped every week, the four teams in Atlanta fit that mold.

No. 1 seed and Midwest champion Louisville spent portions of the season as the No. 1 team in the country and entered the postseason as the top overall seed.

No. 4 seed Michigan, the South champion, also spent some of the season ranked No. 1 and the entire year ranked highly.

Syracuse, a No. 4 seed and the East champion, started 18-1 and ended the regular season 5-7 before getting hot in the postseason.

No. 9 seed Wichita State and West champion went 26-8 before the NCAA tournament and is only the second No. 9 seed to ever make the Final Four.

The Cardinals’ balance and depth have afforded them the favorite label throughout March and they’ve backed it up. Louisville’s closest game has been eight points against No. 12 Oregon, 77-69, in the Sweet 16. They beat No. 16 seed North Carolina A&T, No. 8 seed Colorado State and No. 2 seed Duke by an average of 26.3 points.

Louisville’s leading scorer Russ Smith is averaging 26 points per game in the NCAA tournament, including a 31-point outburst against Oregon.

The Cardinals’ defensive anchor Gorgui Dieng is averaging 2.5 blocks per game and had four in the contests against Duke and Oregon.

Louisville is looking for the school’s first NCAA championship since 1986 but the tournament giant killer stands in the way.

Wichita State will have an opportunity to continue knocking off top teams in the first game at 6:09 p.m. Saturday against Louisville. The Shockers beat No. 1 seed Gonzaga 76-70 in the round of 32 and beat No. 2 Ohio State 70-66 in the Elite Eight.

Scoring at least 70 points in all of Wichita State’s four tournament games, the Shockers should not be a surprise for the Cardinals come Saturday.

Cleanthony Early, a junior college transfer from New York, is averaging 14.3 points and seven rebounds per game in the tournament for the team that is the shock of the tournament.

Michigan will meet Syracuse in a battle of athletic squads that play contrasting styles (8:49 p.m., Saturday).

With stellar sophomore guard Trey Burke leading the charge, the Wolverines have averaged 78.8 points per game. The Orange’s lengthy 2-3 zone has limited teams to 45.8 points per game.

Burke’s late-game heroics in the Sweet 16 overtime victory lifted Michigan over No. 1 seed Kansas. The National Player of the Year candidate has struggled scoring at time in the tournament but is averaging 15.5 points and 7.8 assists through four games. He’s shooting 33 percent from the field.

Freshman 6-foot-10 forward Mitch McGary has given the Wolverines a surprising lift in the post since moving to the starting lineup with averages of 17.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per game in the tournament. In the regular season, McGary averaged 7.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.

The length of Syracuse could present matchup problems for Burke and company as the starting lineup is all 6-foot-4 and taller.

 Michael Carter-Williams, the Orange’s 6-foot-6 point guard, is filling the stat sheet for the Orange. Carter-Williams is averaging 13 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 3.3 steals per game in the tournament.

Syracuse’s only championship came in 2003 and was the most recent out of all of the Final Four teams’ titles.