Ohio State and Louisville, two teams who had their struggles in the regular season but finished strong are now in the Final Four.
Louisville’s ascent it more dramatic from a talent and wins-loss perspective. As a fourth-seed the Cardinal began the season 12-0, but then lost five out of eight games to start the Big East schedule. They got things together and went 10-8 in the Big East and went on to win the Big East tournament. The Cardinal beat Davidson, New Mexico, Michigan State and Florida for a trip to the Final Four.
It is Louisville coach Rick Pitino’s sixth final four appearance his second with Louisville, having also taken the Cardinal to the Final Four in 2005.
“I’ve been proud of a lot of teams and I’ve said this team reminds me of the ’87 team [with Providence],” Pitino said after the Cardinal knocked off the seventh-seeded Florida coached by his former player at Providence Billy Donovan.
“I’ve never wanted a Final Four more in my life than in ’87. Just to ease the pain that we were going through at the time of losing a son and distract my wife and family from that moment. And I never wanted a Final Four more than for these guys.”
Pitino added, “They give me every single thing they have in their bodies. And they’re just the most incredible group to coach. And now they’re going to get this experience. And the only thing I’ve asked them to is not to be satisfied by going.”
It sets up a potential monster Bluegrass state rivalry matchup between Kentucky and Louisville. That game will happen if Kentucky knocks off Baylor as expected on Sunday.
Ohio State’s story is a little different. They lost three of five games at one point in February during the Big Ten schedule. But this team knew all along they had the talent and the expectation was a deep run in the tourney.
Center/forward Jared Sullinger declined to be the top pick in last year’s draft for another run at the title, after the Buckeyes lost in the regional semifinal in 2011.
Ohio State will meet the winner of Sunday’s Kansas-North Carolina game.
The Buckeyes have the defensive athleticism to compete with Kansas and North Carolina that won’t be a problem. Looking forward to a potential Kentucky-Ohio State title game, Sullinger against another projected No. 1 pick, center Anthony Davis, would be a big time matchup.
At the end of the day, we’ll see three classic basketball powers in the Final Four more than likely, Kentucky, UNC/Kansas and Louisville with Ohio State looking to win its first National Title since 1960.