While the 68-team NCAA Mens’ college basketball tournament is now down to the Final Four, the equally important SaraBozich.com & Arooga’s Mid-State March Madness pool has whittled its way down from 64 entrants to just three potential winners vying for the vaunted $50 Arooga’s gift card.
Before we get into the scenarios for the “Final Three,” let’s talk a little bit about the Final Four, which virtually no one predicted. Consider that out of the 8.15 million brackets entered into ESPN’s Tournament Challenge, only 47 brackets correctly picked Syracuse, Michigan, Louisville and Wichita State to advance to this weekend’s Final Four in Atlanta. And believe me, there were certainly no college basketball gurus in our Mid-State March Madness pool — 48 out of our 64 entries had the Final Four-bound Shockers from Wichita State losing to the Pittsburgh Panthers in the first round; and not a single entry had the Shockers advance past the Sweet 16.
Here’s a look at Saturday’s Final Four matchups:
Even though many people like to root for the underdog in games like this, it’s hard not to pull for Louisville after seeing sophomore Kevin Ware suffer one of the most horrific and gruesome leg injuries I’ve ever witnessed in Sunday’s inspired win over Duke (of course it’s on YouTube for those curious, but I don’t recommend it and I won’t link to it — it’s that bad). The tournament’s top seed and the national champion pick by one third of the Mid-State March Madness entrants, the Cardinals have been on an absolute tear over the past month and a half — winning 14 straight games and outscoring their opponents by an average of over 17 points per game during that stretch.
The Cardinals will look to keep their run going against the “Shockers” of the tournament, #9 seed Wichita State — who are only the fifth team seeded ninth or higher to reach the Final Four since 1979. If Wichita State can continue their improbable run, which already includes victories over #1 seed Gonzaga and #2 seed Ohio State, they will be the lowest seed ever to win the national championship. Pennsylvania’s own Villanova Wildcats, an #8 seed, were the lowest seed to ever win the national championship when they won in 1985.
The pick: No team is playing better than Louisville, and it would be among the biggest upsets in tournament history if Wichita State shocked the Cardinals. Louisville 78-67.
After starting the season 18-1 and climbing to a #3 national ranking, the Syracuse Orange began to fall apart down the stretch and lost seven of their final 12 games. However, Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim was able to right the Orange’s sinking ship and they went on to have a solid showing in the Big East Tournament — that is, until they got outscored 56-26 by Louisville in the second half of the Big East Championship Game. Throughout the NCAA tournament, Syracuse’s legendary 2-3 zone defense has been impenetrable and has caused fits for every opponent — most recently Marquette, who was held to a record-low (in the shot clock era) 39 points in the Elite Eight. This is Syracuse’s first trip back to the Final Four since Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara (now a Syracuse assistant coach) led the Orange to a National Championship in 2003.
While it’s been 10 years since Syracuse’s last Final Four appearance, it’s been 20 years since the Michigan Wolverines were led to the Final Four by the “Fab Five.” Led by player of the year candidate Trey Burke, the Wolverines have as much talent as any team in the country — but, as evidenced by their loss earlier this season at State College to the hapless Nittany Lions basketball team, are hardly predictable.
The pick: I won’t even pretend to be unbiased about this matchup: Syracuse has always been my favorite basketball team (sadly, their 2003 National Championship remains the only title any of my teams have won in my 20+ years as a sports fan) and as a Penn State football guy, it’s impossible to pull for Michigan in anything. Syracuse 74-71.
The SaraBozich.com Mid-State March Madness Update
First off, thanks again to everyone who participated in our second annual SaraBozich.com Mid-State March Madness pool. If you’re not one of the three participants still in the running for the $50 gift card graciously donated by Arooga’s, make sure to watch more basketball and hope you find the next Wichita State in next year’s pool.
And by my amateur calculations, here are the scenarios for each of the three brackets remaining in contention (drum roll …):
Christopher Sheperis — If Michigan beats Syracuse and advances to the national championship game — regardless of the Louisville outcome, Chris wins. Chris has Michigan vs. Louisville in the final and picked the Cardinals to cut down the nets.
Calla Zawoysky — If Lousiville meets Syracuse in the national championship and the Cardinals win, Calla will win the pool. Calla’s bracket has Louisville beating Syracuse for the championship.
And SaraBozich.com’s own Tierney Pomone – If Syracuse wins the national championship, Tierney wins. Tierney can also win the pool if Wichita State beats Louisville and Syracuse triumphs over Michigan. Tierney has Syracuse vs. Louisville to advance to the national title game, with the Orange winning the title.