This past weekend, we saw the Final Four come together, as Gonzaga, Oregon, and the Carolinas both North and South, prevailed in their respective regionals and earned the right to compete in Phoenix next weekend. There are some awesome stories there – Mark Few, Dana Altman and Frank Martin, each making their first Final Four – and also, the one powerhouse in the Tar Heels that are hoping to give Roy Williams his third title in nine tries.
It’s not the Final Four that anyone really expected – outside of the 657 of the almost 19 million people on ESPN’s Tournament Challenge that got super lucky. Two #1 seeds making it helped some people stay competitive in their brackets. I was not one of those people, as I had Duke, Arizona, Iowa State and Kentucky in the Final Four. But hey, I wasn’t alone in my misery!
34 percent of brackets had zero Final Four teams correct.
— ESPN Fantasy Sports (@ESPNFantasy) March 27, 2017
The games on Saturday will be very compelling, and I have no idea which way they’re going to go. It feels like it will be Gonzaga vs. UNC in the finals, but the Gamecocks weren’t supposed to be here, and they are, so why count them out? From Gary Parrish at CBS Sports:
It’s a cliche that’s not always true. But “defense wins championships” does apply to this Final Four. Gonzaga is rated No. 1 in defensive efficiency. South Carolina is No. 2. North Carolina is No. 18. Oregon is No. 19. So this is the second straight season all four Final Four teams have had top-25 defensive efficiency ratings. And South Carolina’s defense has been so amazing that the Gamecocks are going to Phoenix despite ranking 105th in offensive efficiency.
Who won’t be there, and who I firmly believe would have been there had Friday night’s ending gone differently, is the Wisconsin Badgers.
There are plenty of things to second guess about Friday night’s epic: Why didn’t Khalil Iverson dunk on the breakaway? Why didn’t D’Mitrik Trice shadow Chris Chiozza better on the final play? Why can’t anyone make an effing free throw?
Those questions sting a bit, and frankly, even if you have answers now, it isn’t going to change anything. All but one team in this tournament’s comes to a disappointing end. For the Badgers’ four, incredibly accomplished seniors, it means a bitter end to a stellar career.
#Badgers seniors 115-35 overall.
4 Sweet 16's
2 Final Fours
1 national championship appearance.
Expectations will never be the same. pic.twitter.com/8yIvrUH0kr
— Evan Flood (@Evan_Flood) March 25, 2017
This group, along with Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker and Co., helped elevate Wisconsin into not just a feel-good story every once in a while, but into a program that expects to be not only competing for a Big Ten title and in the NCAA tournament, but also legitimate, national contenders, year in and year out. I look forward to see where each of their respective basketball careers take them, in the NBA, abroad, or closer to home, but their impact will be felt, and seen, in Madison and beyond for a long time.