The field is set for the 2013 Final Four, and three quarters of it managed to surprise us.
Michigan and Syracuse struggled near the end of the regular season, but the Wolverines’ freshmen and the Orange’s defense carried the way to the national semifinals. And Wichita State couldn’t overtake Missouri Valley champion Creighton during the regular season, but took over its region.
And then there’s Louisville. In a year that seemed to lack a frontrunner for most of the season, the Cardinals captured that role. Louisville won 17 of its last 18 games, culminating Sunday with an 85-63 win over No. 2 seed Duke.
From prohibitive title favorite in Louisville to one of the true surprises in Wichita State, here are the key numbers from the weekend and the four teams left standing in the NCAA Tournament:
18. Combined seed ranking for the Final Four
With No. 1 Louisville, No. 4 Michigan, No. 4 Syracuse and No. 9 Wichita State reaching the Final Four, the combined seeding of 18 is the fifth-highest since the NCAA began seeding teams in 1979. The Final Fours with higher combined seed rankings:
1980 (21): No. 2 Louisville*, No. 5 Iowa, No. 7 Purdue, No. 8 UCLA
2000 (20): No. 1 Michigan State*, No. 5 Florida, No. 8 North Carolina, No. 8 Wisconsin
2006 (20): No. 2 UCLA, No. 3 Florida*, No. 4 LSU, No. 11 George Mason
2011 (26): No. 3 Connecticut*, No. 4 Kentucky, No. 8 Butler, No. 11 VCU
*Won national title
21-18. Record in February and March for Michigan, Syracuse and Wichita State
How important is it to be the hot hand before the NCAA Tournament? Not very, at least in 2013. Michigan (6-6), Syracuse (8-7) and Wichita State (7-5) went a combined 21-18 in February and March heading into the NCAA Tournament. And what’s more, Michigan and Wichita State both lost to the last-place teams in their respective conferences during that span. In addition, Wichita State and Syracuse lost their final games in January. The outlier here is Louisville, which went 12-1 in February and March, its only loss in five overtimes to Notre Dame. The Cardinals are also the only Final Four team that won either its regular season conference title or conference tournament. The Cardinals shared the Big East regular season title and won the conference tournament as a No. 2 seed.
64-43. Amount Louisville outscored Duke after the Kevin Ware injury
Kevin Ware’s gruesome injury -- which caused the Louisville guard’s bone to pop out of the skin of his right leg -- prompted an emotional reaction from the Cardinals. Guard Russ Smith sobbed, and coach Rick Pitino wiped a tear from his eye. Several players for both teams fell to their knees. Louisville, though, regrouped by outscoring Duke 64-43 after the injury. The Cardinals led 21-20 at the 6:33 mark when the injury occurred.
4. Coaches to lead a team to the Final Four in four different decades
An eventful season for Jim Boeheim included his 900th win and now a Final Four, making him one of four coaches to lead a team to the national semifinals in four decades. He joins Dean Smith of North Carolina, Mike Krzyzewski of Duke and Rick Pitino of Providence, Kentucky and Louisville in that rare company. Boeheim previously led Syracuse to the Final Four in 1987, 1996 and 2003.
43.3. Points per game by Michigan’s top three freshmen in the tournament
Hard to believe as it is, Michigan advanced to the Final Four without Trey Burke leading the team in scoring in any game in the NCAA Tournament. Of course, Burke’s heroics and his game-tying three pointer against Kansas moved Michigan into the Elite Eight, but the Wolverines wouldn’t have come this far without contributions from their top three freshmen. Mitch McGary, Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III averaged a combined 43.3 points per game in the NCAA Tournament after combining to average 26 points per game during the regular season. McGary had 21 points and 14 rebounds against VCU and then 25 points and 14 rebounds against Kansas. In the Elite Eight against Florida, Nik Stauskas was the beneficiary of the Gators’ attention on Burke. The guard hit all six of his shots from three-point range on the way to 22 points.
Plus-10. Wichita State’s edge in offensive rebounds in the second weekend
Wichita State entered the tournament as one of the best rebounding teams in the country. The Shockers ranked seventh nationally in rebound rate, grabbing 55.6 percent of possible rebounds. The Shockers dominated the glass in wins over La Salle and Ohio State, grabbing 30 offensive rebounds compared to 20 for their opponents.
1. Missouri Valley team to reach the Final Four since 1979
Wichita State not only became the fourth team seeded ninth or lower to reach the Final Four in the 64-team era, the Shockers also ended a long drought of Missouri Valley teams in the Final Four. The Shockers are the first MVC team to reach the Final Four since Larry Bird led Indiana State to the national title game in 1979. The Missouri Valley produced national champions in Cincinnati (1961 and 1962) and Oklahoma A&M, now Oklahoma State (1945 and 1946).
61-to-67. Field goal-to-turnover ratio for Syracuse’s tournament opponents
How tough has it been to score on Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament? Put it this way: Teams were more likely to cough up the ball than score a basket against the Orange during their run to the Final Four. Syracuse’s opponents had 61 field goals and 67 turnovers. Round of 32 foe Cal was the only team to have more field goals (22) than turnovers (17).
40. Years since a final 16 team failed to score 40 points
Marquette’s 39 points against Syracuse in the Elite Eight were the fewest for a team in the regional semifinals or later in 40 years. UCLA defeated San Francisco 54-39 in the regional final in 1973.
3. Consecutive Elite Eight losses for Florida
Florida is the first team to lose in the Elite Eight in three consecutive tournaments, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Before losing to Michigan, the Gators lost to Louisville in 2012 and Butler in 2011. Before 2011, Florida won its first four trips in the regional final in 1994, 2000, 2006 and 2007.