By Tyler Buchanon
Here we are. March Madness begets an April Final Four.
For the sake of transparency: I take great joy in the NCAA tournament each year (this one was no exception), but in the same way that I “follow” the National Hockey League each season, this is all just camouflage. Baseball season is back and I can quietly divert my sporting allegiance to where it belongs.
But I am foremost a sports fan. I don’t have to be specifically interested in the World Cup or the Australian Open or either of the Olympic Games to recognize their importance. I’m a much larger college basketball fan than I am of tennis or soccer, surely; this preface is only to say that it could be four iterations of Duke in the semi-finals and I would still watch. It’s the Final Four.
Except, it does kind of feel that way. Three of the four teams remaining have won the tournament in recent memory. Combined, Florida (2006 and 2007), Kentucky (2012) and Connecticut (2011) have won four of the past eight tournaments.
That leaves Wisconsin. Even if the team’s presence at the Final Four is noteworthy for how elusive it has been for the Badgers, it feels insincere to root for a two seed as if they are George Mason.
Wisconsin has not reached the title game since winning an NCAA championship in 1941, so there’s that at least. Even teams like Wyoming, Holy Cross, City College of New York, La Salle, Loyola, Cincinnati, University of Texas El Paso and Villanova are recognized with championships since that time, so you’re talking about a long, long time ago.
Florida won each of their four games to get into the semi-finals by comfortable, double-digit margins (against 16, 9, 4 and 11-seeded teams).
Wisconsin was tied 20-20 with American University (seriously) before crushing them to the tune of 75-35. They beat 7 seed Oregon by eight and crushed Baylor in a 17-point game that looks way closer than it really was. In the only Elite Eight matchup between a 1 and 2 seed, Wisconsin won the heavyweight matchup, 64-63 over Arizona.
UConn went to overtime against St. Joseph’s in the opening round, scoring 19 points in the extra period to win 89-81. From there, the team upset 2-seeded Villanova by 12, then 3-seeded Iowa St., then 4-seeded Michigan State. That’s a tough road to the Final Four and UConn appears up to the challenge of taking on #1 Florida.
But Kentucky has had the craziest journey to the semi-finals, playing several of the greatest games in an already intense March Madness tournament. The team opened the season 14-3 (and 21-5) before going 5-5 in one stretch late in the year. The team finished outside the AP Top 25 ranking to end the season.
The Wildcats squeaked out of the first round, beating Kansas State 56-49. Then came perhaps the most exciting game of the tournament, a thrilling 78-76 contest which knocked out undefeated Wichita State. From there, Kentucky beat defending champion Louisville by five and 2-seeded Michigan by three thanks to a last-second bucket.
Okay, so there’s no Dunk City, no Wichita State chasing a perfect record, no George Mason. There’s just four incredibly good basketball teams prepared to square away in what should be three incredible games.
Sure, baseball’s back, and I’m grateful. But I’ll one of many tuning in to AT&T Stadium on Saturday night.