ATLANTA — An inspired Louisville squad vs. the surprising Shockers.
A new group of Fab Wolverines vs. the stingiest zone defense in college basketball.
After a weekend of blowouts and another upset, the Final Four is set.
Top overall seed Louisville will face Wichita State at the Georgia Dome next Saturday, while Michigan takes on Syracuse in the other national semifinal. The winners advance to the April 8 championship.
On Sunday, the Cardinals drew inspiration from a gruesome injury to guard Kevin Ware and cruised past Duke, 85-63, in the Midwest Regional. Michigan led from the opening tip, routing Florida, 79-59, in the South.
A day earlier, Syracuse shut down Marquette, 55-39, to win the East. Wichita State punched its Final Four ticket with a 70-66 upset of Ohio State out West.
In the final year of the Big East before it splits into two new conferences, Louisville and Syracuse provided a fitting send-off to a league that quickly became a basketball powerhouse after it was founded in 1979.
Before it goes, this version of the Big East has a shot at one more national title.
With two teams, no less.
The Cardinals — who, like Syracuse, are moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference — were the only No. 1 seed to make it to the Final Four. And, boy, it’s been an impressive run.
Louisville (33-5) has won its four NCAA games by an average margin of nearly 22 points, capped by a second-half blowout of Duke after the Cardinals shook off the incredible shock of the injury to Ware, who broke his leg in two places.
While the Cardinals are the clear favorite heading to their second straight Final Four, Wichita State was the most improbable team to advance.
The ninth-seeded Shockers (30-8) built a 20-point lead on the Buckeyes, then managed to hang on through a nerve-racking final five minutes to pull off the latest upset in a tournament filled with them.
The Shockers will need a bigger stunner to knock off Louisville, the one team in a wide-open tournament that has looked unbeatable.
Then again, that other team from Kansas has shown no fear so far.
“It feels very good,” said Cleanthony Early, a junior forward who, like most guys on this team, was passed over by higher-profile programs.
Old-timers might remember Louisville and Wichita State as former conference rivals. The Cardinals were a member of the Missouri Valley Conference in the 1960s and ’70s, which meant annual games against the Shockers.
Michigan (30-7) is headed back to the Final Four for the first time since the Fab Five era of the early 1990s, when the Wolverines lost in back-to-back national title games.
This team has much the same feel, led by sophomore Trey Burke, the Big Ten player of the year, and three freshmen starters. They were downright fabulous against Florida on Sunday, never seriously threatened after scoring the first 13 points.
The Wolverines have their work cut out against Syracuse (30-9), a team that has totally stuffed opponents with its zone defense. The fourth-seeded Orange are headed to their first Final Four since winning the title in 2003 largely because they have allowed fewer than 46 points a game in the tournament.