March Madness is down to just four teams in 2013.
Syracuse, Wichita State, Michigan and Louisville will all do battle later this week in their respective Final Four matchups as they seek to win through to the national championship game and the chance to be crowned the top college basketball team in the country.
All four teams have earned big wins and chalked up incredible performances to make it this far in the tournament, and are all genuine contenders in Atlanta.
However, having said that, some teams are definitely tougher than others, and will represent more difficult matchups in the Final Four as a result.
Read on to see which teams left in the tournament are the toughest to beat.
4. Wichita State Shockers—No. 9 seed, West Region
The Shockers have achieved some incredible results to make it through to the Final Four of the tournament, but they are without doubt the weakest team remaining in the NCAA tournament.
They are very strong defensively and carry good depth throughout their squad, but they simply don't have the offensive talent required to beat a true elite team this year. And no, Gonzaga is not an elite team this year—as the Shockers quickly proved in March Madness.
They rebound very well at both ends of the court, and whilst they've lit it up at times in their offense so far in the tournament, that will surely end here.
Louisville is the best defensive team in the country, and the Shockers aren't consistent shooters of the ball (ranking outside the top 100 for field goal and three point percentage this season). It's hard to not see their recent run of success shooting the ball catch back up with them here.
Outside of dominating the boards, there's little that Wichita State can do consistently in the Final Four that will cause any great concern for its opponents.
And as a result, they're the weakest Final Four team this year.
3. Syracuse Orange—No. 4 seed, East Region
Defense, defense, defense.
It's been the story of the Orange's tournament so far in March Madness and it will no doubt be their greatest strength against Michigan in the Final Four.
With their trusty 2-3 zone, the Orange have arguably the best defense in the tournament at the moment—led by their big men inside. They establish themselves quickly on defense and make it very hard for opponents to beat them inside consistently.
However, the biggest question mark coming up against Michigan is not whether their defense will be able to handle the Wolverines' talented duo of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. (though that is a big question). The biggest concern, it seems, will be whether they possess the offensive talent needed to keep pace with Michigan—especially when it comes to transition.
Syracuse doesn't have the fastest offense around, and whilst it can be solid in transition, it's not exactly what you'd call the strongest team on the break.
The Orange aren't a big-scoring team and don't post up big offensive numbers across the board either—which will make it hard for them to win on offense.
The Orange can be simply woeful shooting the ball, and if that happens in the Final Four, it could be a very simple exit for the No. 4 seed.
Whilst they will be able to contain the likes of Burke to some extent, not even their defense will be able to force enough stops to give their sputtering offense a chance to find it's range once more.
2. Michigan Wolverines—No. 4 seed, South Region
The Wolverines might not have much of a frontcourt given the fact that they essentially play a four-guard lineup, but those guards are electric at their best.
Starting with front-runner for the National Player of the Year, Trey Burke, the Wolverines have a powerful offense that moves the ball exceptionally well—definitely well enough to pry open the strong perimeter defense that the Orange will bring in their Final Four matchup.
They do rely on both Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. a great deal, and whilst that could be seen as a weakness should they struggle, the reality is that it hasn't happened so far in the tournament. And given the form they've shown against Kansas and Florida, it doesn't look like changing any time in the near future either for the No. 4 seed.
Michigan's dynamic attack is the best remaining in the tournament, and it's one that makes for a very tough opponent. Without a brilliant perimeter defense and the ability to force turnovers in transition, the Wolverines are essentially unbeatable, and will be a very tough team to knock off.
I'd expect them to chalk up another big lead against Syracuse like they did Florida, and simply ride that lead for a spot in the championship game.
They are playing their best basketball of the year right now, and are riding an incredible hot streak that will make them a very difficult opponent to beat.
1. Louisville Cardinals—No. 1 seed, Midwest Region
However, as strong as the Wolverines are, there is no stronger team left remaining in the NCAA tournament than that of Louisville. The Cardinals are very potent on both offense and defense, and have the complete game required to beat any opponent that they face.
Against an offensive-minded team, the Cardinals will use their perimeter defense to force turnovers and poor options as they have done all year. And when they need their offense to shine, they'll simply let Russ Smith do his thing—and away they go.
Gorgui Dieng is a prolific shot-blocker who dominates inside, and when coupled with the Cardinals' perimeter defense, makes for a very tough team.
Moreover, as we saw perfectly against Duke, this is a team that is united and together. They have a plethora of self-belief and passion, and are completely confident that they have what it takes to cut down the net on that final game in Atlanta.
And judging on what we've seen so far, there's no team capable of stopping them.
Who do you think is the strongest team in the Final Four this year?
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