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Green: A fitting end to the Madness (April 5)

Mary Green | Friday, April 5, 2013

As college hoops faithful convene for Final Four festivities, all eyes will be on Atlanta this weekend. But while these fans gather around the television in their living rooms, in their favorite sports bars or, if they’re lucky enough, in the Georgia Dome, they will also celebrate and reflect on the past five months of college basketball. Oh, what a season it has been.

We started out thinking that Kentucky, laden with John Calipari’s annual crop of one-and-dones, would actually be good – that was as big a mistake as Nerlens Noel chose to play for the Wildcats over the Orange. On the other end of the spectrum, Miami, led by AP Coach of the Year Jim Larranaga, started the season unranked, receiving exactly eight votes in the preseason AP poll. It seems like those writers finally got it straight with their balloting a few months later.

And then there was the poll itself once the season began. No team could keep a grip on its ranking for more than a few weeks, and top-five squads dropped like flies each Saturday.

But with all the turbulence that highlighted this season of college basketball, it is only fitting that four teams in particular headed down to the Peach State earlier this week. In a season marked by unsteady rankings, a five-overtime showdown and overall craziness, it almost appears as if destiny has given Michigan, Syracuse, Louisville and Wichita State the opportunity to play for their “One Shining Moment.”

Take a look at the Wolverines. What better team to play in the Final Four than one that appeared in one of the most bizarre championship games of all time? The last time Michigan made it to the final matchup, it essentially lost the title on a timeout – or lack thereof – as Chris Webber was called for a technical after requesting a timeout when none remained. Ironically, that loss and the rest of the Wolverines’ 1992-1993 season was erased from their history when NCAA investigators discovered Webber received payments from Michigan boosters while he was a student. Guess money really can’t buy time.

And what about the current group of Wolverines? They’re definitely one of the most interesting teams in the country. They start three freshmen, sophomore AP Player of the Year Trey Burke and junior Tim Hardaway, Jr., son of former NBA All-Star Tim Hardaway. Plus, they don a rather sunny shade of maize that makes them look like highlighters running up and down the court, so you can’t ask for much more fashion-wise.

Turn to their opponent, Syracuse. Has any team been more controversial year after year in the past decade? NCAA investigators must have purchased some land in beautiful central New York because it seems like they’re there every winter with new accusations. Jim Boeheim’s squad has faced allegations of players competing while academically ineligible and had players accused of sexual assault and failed drug tests, along with the Bernie Fine abuse controversy. But while the Orange are consistently under fire, they also consistently win, making their storyline heading to Atlanta one of the most attention-grabbing.

To juice up the Orange’s plot even more, this year marks the 10th anniversary of the team’s only championship. And who is currently the hottest player in the NBA? Carmelo Anthony, the once-freshman who led that squad. Call it fate, call it coincidence, call it what you may, but there’s no doubt that Syracuse has an intriguing backstory entering this weekend.

On the other side of the bracket lies Louisville. As the No. 1 overall seed, it had the best prospects of making it to the Final Four. But the Cardinals, too, had an interesting run this year. In their two most notable games, they squandered an eight-point lead with less than a minute remaining against Notre Dame before falling to the Irish in five overtimes, and then overcame a 16-point second-half deficit against Syracuse to claim the Big East championship a month later.

But the Cardinals really captured America’s attention last Sunday, when sophomore guard Kevin Ware broke his leg on a freak play against Duke in the Elite Eight. Millions of fans watched the teams’ players and coaches fall in shock at the horrific injury, which quickly became one of the most popular conversation topics across America. As with Syracuse, Louisville has a curiosity-piquing storyline that plays out with each day leading up to the semifinal.

Last but not least is Wichita State. What more is there to say about why they embody the madness of not only March but of this year’s season as a whole? The No. 9 seed Shockers busted enough brackets when they won their second-round game against Pittsburgh, let along by making it to the Final Four. They weren’t expected to win a single game, but here they are. Enough said.

So there you have it, four teams who enter the final weekend of college basketball with ever-so-captivating plots that live up to the craziness of this season. But while these teams have shown the game is unpredictable to say the least, one thing is certain: we’ll all be there Saturday, watching every minute of this madness unfold.

Contact Mary Green at [email protected].

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.