This Year’s Final Four: Have We Seen It Before?
After a long week of university and conference scandal, administrative bluster and Twitter frenzy, we’ve finally made it to the national semifinals. Time to let the basketball itself speak loudest for the sport. There are some really strong potential storylines in this Final Four, and depending on how things work out, this weekend could end up looking a decent amount like several past ones. No, even if Wichita State wins, this field isn’t that much like 1985, but there are some other Final Fours that feel fairly similar in construct and perception.
2006: 3-seed Florida, 2-seed UCLA, 4-seed LSU, 11-seed George Mason
This was the first one to come to mind, although unlike Louisville, these Gators were only considered indomitable in retrospect. The Patriots were the first mid-major to make the Final Four since 1979, and they may have been “Butler before Butler” had they not drawn the best team remaining in the semifinals. That Mason team, with two legit post players and some very solid talent on the perimeter, may well have been the second-best team at that Final Four — or at least was playing at that level, but drawing the Gators stopped them short of a berth in the championship game. Florida rolled in the title game against UCLA for the first of back-to-back national titles.
1991: 1-seed UNLV, 1-seed North Carolina, 2-seed Duke, 3-seed Kansas
If Wichita State pulls the seismic upset on Saturday, there will be some mentions of this season. Obviously, the overall seeds were better in this field and Louisville is not perceived as invincible as the Rebels were, but you had what seemed like a relative mismatch in one semifinal, with UNLV trying for a perfect season and back-to-back titles. The other semifinal was really balanced, but somewhat of an afterthought at the time. Then the Rebels lost and we had an unexpected final that was won by the Blue Devils, leaving everyone feeling like the best team hadn’t even had a chance to play for the title. Duke was a nine-point underdog against UNLV. Wichita State is +10.5 today.
1987: 1-seed Indiana, 1-seed UNLV, 2-seed Syracuse, 6-seed Providence
Just two years after Villanova’s miracle championship, the Big East launched another Cinderella into the Final Four. And, of course, those Friars were coached by Rick Pitino, with Jim Boeheim at the helm of the then Orangemen. The seeding was better than the batch we have this season, but we could see the same kind of dynamic in terms of the games. Syracuse handled the upstarts in one semifinal and Indiana edged UNLV, 97-93, in the other. The national title game was one of the classics, with Keith Smart winning it for the Hoosiers with a last-seconds baseline jumper.