The Road To The 2013 Final Four

Louisville was seeking their first national title since 1986, when the legendary Denny Crum was still on the sidelines. The Cardinals reached the summit, triumphing in a 2013 Final Four that included Michigan, Syracuse, and Wichita State. Here’s a look back on the road those four teams traveled to reach Atlanta.


Rick Pitino had been at Louisville since 2002 and reached a pair of Final Fours. One of them came in 2012 and most of the key players were back. Russ Smith only went 6’0”, but the guard scored 18ppg. He was the star on a lineup that was otherwise balanced. Peyton Siva joined Smith in the backcourt. Luke Hancock and Chane Behanan were at the forwards, with Gorgui Deng anchoring the middle as a good shot blocker and rebounder.

Expectations were high and Louisville was ranked #2 in the preseason polls. They ripped off a 16-1 start, before briefly stumbling and losing three straight games in mid-January. The Cardinals righted the ship and concluded the regular season by winning ten of their last eleven. A member of the Big East at the time, they shared the conference title with Georgetown and Marquette. At Madison Square Garden in the league tournament, Louisville dominated—three straight resounding wins got them the 1-seed in the Midwest Regional.

The NCAA Tournament began close to home, but at an unfriendly locale—Kentucky’s Rupp Arena. Louisville coasted through the first weekend with a familiar template. Smith scored 23 points and came up with eight steals against North Carolina A&T. The Cards forced 25 turnovers, led 47-31 at half and won 79-48. Against Colorado State in the Round of 32, Smith scored 27, and the team defense forced 19 turnovers. Louisville led 45-31 at the half and won 82-56.

A bracket break awaited at the regionals in Indianapolis. Oregon, the #12 seed, had taken out both Oklahoma State and St. Louis. Louisville just stuck to their script. They were ahead 45-31 at halftime. Smith poured in 31 points, the team as a whole shot 54 percent and they held off the Ducks to win 77-69.

Duke and Michigan State squared off in a 2-3 matchup in the other regional semi. Neither team shot the ball well, but the Blue Devils got 29 points from Seth Curry to win 71-61. A high-profile Louisville-Duke showdown would settle a berth in the Final Four.

The Elite Eight game was tight for a half, and the Cards led 35-32. But Louisville’s defense continued to be stifling. They held the Blue Devils to 37 percent shooting. Siva scored 16 points. Deng controlled the middle, with 14 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks. And Smith? He just kept scoring, knocking down 23. Louisville blew this one wide open in the second half, winning 85-63. They were making a return trip to the Final Four and Smith was an easy choice as the region’s Most Outstanding Player.


John Beilein was in his fourth year in Ann Arbor. Inheriting a program that had been in a long drought, he made the NCAA Tournament each of his first three seasons. This edition of the Wolverines was led by National Player of the Year Trey Burke, a guard who averaged 19 points/7 assists per game and had range from most anywhere in the gym. Tim Hardaway completed a dynamic backcourt, averaging 15 ppg. Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson Jr. were forwards scoring in double figures.

Michigan was ranked #5 in the preseason polls and reached the top of the national rankings in January. But they got sluggish thereafter, going 10-6 down the stretch, finishing fourth in the Big Ten and then losing in the quarterfinals of the league tournament. They were the 4-seed in the South Regional but got a break—their opening weekend would be close to home, at The Palace in Auburn Hills.

Burke shot poorly in the Round of 64 against South Dakota State and the Wolverines only led 30-26 at the half. But Hardaway and Robinson stepped up with 21 points each and Michigan pulled away to win 71-56. They put together a complete game against 5-seed Virginia Commonwealth. The Wolverines shot 52 percent and held the Rams to 40 percent from the floor. Center Mitch McGary went off for 21 points/14 rebounds. Michigan led 38-23 by half and coasted to a 78-53 win.

It was on to Arlington for the regionals and a Sweet 16 showdown with #1 seed Kansas. Burke knocked down 23 points and handed out ten assists. McGary continued his March surge with a 25 points and 14 boards. In an overtime thriller, the Wolverines upset the Jayhawks 87-85.

Florida was the 3-seed and came through the bottom half of the bracket. Georgetown, the 2-seed, had been stunned by 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast. The latter then became the first 15-seed to reach the Sweet 16. The dream died against the Gators. Florida forced 20 turnovers against FGCU and pulled away in the second half to win 62-50.

Michigan had overcome the season-ending blahs and was now surging. In the regional final, they held Florida to 41 percent from the floor and blew out to a 47-30 halftime lead. The big difference was three-point shooting.  The Wolverines went 10/19 from behind the arc, keyed by Stauskas nailing all six of his attempts. The Gators only went 2/10.

The final was 79-59. Burke was named the region’s Outstanding Player. Although McGary, who chipped in an 11/9 line, had been the more consistent player. Michigan was going to the Final Four for the first time since the days of the Fab Five in 1992 and 1993.


Jim Boeheim was an established legend at Syracuse and had reached the Final Four three times—including a national championship run in 2003. A core group of four players that all went between 6’4” and 6’8” made for lineup balance and executed Boeheim’s 2-3 zone. C.J. Fair averaged 15 points/7 rebounds, while James Southerland posted a 13/5. The guards were led by Michael Carter-Williams, with his 12 points/5 rebounds/7 assists per-game average. Brandon Triche knocked down 14 a night and also handed out four assists.

Coming off an Elite Eight trip in 2012, the Orange were ranked #3 in the preseason polls and were playing up to that standard deep into January. But they stumbled at the end of the regular season, losing four of their last five, and finishing 11-7 in Big East play. A recovery in the conference tournament, where they reached the final before losing to Louisville, got them back on track and gave them the 4-seed in the East.

Syracuse still had to travel for opening weekend and went to San Jose. The zone defense began setting the tone right away, holding Montana to 20 percent shooting. The final was 81-34. Fifth-seeded UNLV got knocked out by Cal. The Orange took out the Golden Bears in a game where neither team shot well, but Syracuse went to the hoop while Cal settled for threes. The result was a disparity in free throw attempts. The Orange went 26/41 from the line, while the Bears were 12/19. That was the difference in a 66-60 win.

It was back east to Washington D.C., in a power region where the top four seeds had all advanced. Syracuse played top-seeded Indiana in the Round of 16. The Hoosiers couldn’t handle the zone and only shot 34 percent. Carter-Williams scored 24 points, came up with four steals, and keyed a surprisingly easy 61-50 win. Third-seeded Marquette then took out #2 Miami in the other regional semi, holding the Hurricanes to 35 percent from the floor in a 71-61 win.

We had an all-Big East regional final. Syracuse only shot 38 percent. But their zone had everyone off-balance, and they held Marquette to 23 percent. It was an ugly game, but an easy win—the final was 55-39. Carter-Williams, with a 12/11/5 line, was an easy choice as Most Outstanding Player.


The Shockers were seeking their first Final Four appearance since 1965. They made an Elite Eight in 1981, and a Sweet 16 in 2006. Gregg Marshall came to Wichita in 2012 and began what would turn into an eight-year ascendancy of Shocker basketball. This year’s team was led by forward Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall at the forward spots. They combined to average 27 points/12 rebounds per night. Malcolm Armstead ran the show in the backcourt, averaging 11 points/4 rebounds/4 assists.

Wichita was steady and consistent all year, going 24-7 and finishing second to Creighton in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Shockers reached the final of the MVC tournament before losing to the Bluejays. They were placed as the 9-seed in the West Regional.

The journey began in Salt Lake City against Pitt. Wichita got 22 from Armstead, 21 from Early, held the Panthers to 35 percent shooting and coasted to a 73-55 win. That earned Wichita a date with top-seeded Gonzaga. Ron Baker, Armstead’s backcourt running mate was hot—he hit 4/6 from behind the arc. As a team, the Shockers went 14/28 from three-point range. They pulled the bracket-busting upset, 76-70.

Wichita wasn’t the only underdog to advance in the West. Kansas State and Wisconsin, the 4-5 seeds respectively, each went out early. The LaSalle Explorers, off the 13-line, were in Los Angeles for the regionals. Wichita annihilated LaSalle on the boards, 44-23. Armstead hit for 18 points in a 72-58 win.

Ohio State was the 2-seed. They had gotten their own bracket break, when #3 New Mexico lost to Harvard. Although playing 6-seed Arizona was no picnic. The Buckeyes, aiming for a second straight Final Four trip, got 20 from DeShaun Thomas and beat the Wildcats in a good 73-70 game.

The regional final was about the Shocker defense. They held Ohio State to 31 percent from the floor and cleaned up the misses to the tune of a 34-26 rebounding edge. Wichita built a 35-22 lead by half and then held off the Buckeyes to win 70-66. Armstead only shot 6-for-21, but his 14 points led the Shockers. That, along with his Sweet 16 performance, got him Most Outstanding Players honors. The 2013 Final Four had its dark horse, and it was on the train coming out of Wichita.


Louisville and Wichita played the opener on Semi-Final Saturday. Unsurprisingly, the defenses, which had led the way for both teams, were locked in. Wichita led 26-22 at the half and the possibility of a big upset was on the table. Early would finish with 24 points. But the Cards got 21 from Russ Smith, and 20 more from Hancock. Their own defense forced Armstead into a 1-for-10 performance. It was a good game to the end, but Louisville turned it around and won 72-68.

Michigan didn’t look quite as unprepared for the Syracuse zone as Indiana and Marquette had. The Wolverines didn’t necessarily shoot well, but McGary worked the interior and got 10 points/12 rebounds/6 assists. Michigan led 36-25 at half. Fair, with 22 points/6 rebounds, helped keep the Orange in it, but it wasn’t enough. The Wolverines won 61-56.

Monday Night’s title fight was worthy of the stakes. Michigan shot the ball well, hitting 52 percent from the floor. Burke had his best game of the tournament and knocked down 24 points. The Wolverines led 38-37 at the half. The Cardinals got a strong game from Behanan, who chipped in 15 points and hauled down 12 rebounds. But the big difference-maker was Hancock. He hit 5-for-6 from three-point range and scored 22 points. Louisville won it 82-76.

Hancock was the 2013 Final Four MVP. Pitino now had national titles with both Louisville and Kentucky. And the Cardinal faithful had their first banner since 1986.