NCAA Tourney proves one of the best in history

by Matthew Bain

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ESPN.com’s Men’s Tournament Challenge received 8.15 million bracket submissions for the 2013 NCAA Tournament. According to ESPN, only 47 of the brackets submitted correctly picked the Final Four teams (University of Louisville, Wichita State University, University of Michigan and Syracuse University). That’s a 0.0000058 percent success rate. With no established team to beat during the regular season, it seemed only fitting that this year’s NCAA Tournament was the “maddest” in recent memory.

Usually, there are a couple of big storylines going into the tournament. Apparently, 2013 didn’t get the memo. One of the “maddest” things about this year’s tournament was the captivating change of the “big” storyline.

One day after the upset-heavy second round, the buzz centered around the Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles. With their explosive fast break offense and highlight-reel dunks, the Eagles won the hearts of fans nationwide in their dismantling of Georgetown University. The Eagles proved they were for real when they defeated San Diego State in the 32nd round   and became the first 15-seed to advance to the Sweet 16. At this point, it seemed like the Florida Gulf Coast story was the only team to watch. This story faded, however, when the Eagles lost to a defensive juggernaut, the University of Florida Gators. What story could ever replace Florida Gulf Coast as the nation’s sweetheart?

In the first half of the University of Louisville’s Elite Eight matchup against Duke University, sophomore guard Kevin Ware landed awkwardly after attempting to contest a 3-point shot and broke his right leg in a horrific freak accident. With his coach, teammates, Duke players and Lucas Oil Stadium attendees in tears, Ware held his composure, called his teammates together and told them to finish the job. Instead of allowing the tragedy to defeat them, the Cardinals rallied around each other and Ware, and tore apart a phenomenal Duke team in the second half. Pitino stressed to his team that it was important to bring Ware back home to Atlanta, and Louisville did just that by advancing to the Final Four. For this reason, the Louisville Cardinals became a rare blend of a tournament favorite and a sweetheart: the Sweetheart Goliath.

In the Final Four, Louisville went head-to-head with Wichita State, another mid-major school that made it to the Final Four after defeating Gonzaga University and Ohio State University. The Cardinals won a very close game with Ware as their number one cheerleader. Emotion surrounded the Louisville-Wichita State game because of Ware’s injury, and because of this, the University of Michigan-Syracuse game took a backseat. Michigan won this game to reach its first championship game since the Fab Five in 1993.

The championship game was legendary. Michigan freshman guard Spike Albrecht, who averaged less than two points per game during the regular season, exploded for 17 in the first half. Louisville junior forward Luke Hancock, who averaged about nine points a game, responded and unloaded for 22 en route to winning the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player. Both Louisville and Michigan were playing without production from two of their biggest stars—Louisville junior guard Russ Smith shot 3 of 16, while Michigan sophomore guard Trey Burke sat out much of the first half with foul trouble. It was up to the lesser-known players. Louisville prevailed 82-76 and Ware cut down the championship net.

Great drama with an even better tournament.

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