Wait a minute before throwing that last shovel of dirt on the Big East Conference. The conference tournament at Madison Square Garden was described by many as an Irish wake. But Syracuse and Louisville are keeping the old Big East on life support by advancing to this Final Four. With Syracuse headed to the Atlantic Coast Conference next season and Louisville following in 2014, there is a touch of nostalgia for the conference Dave Gavitt created in 1979. The Big East is still the only conference to send three teams to a Final Four, accomplishing that in 1985 with Villanova, Georgetown and St. John’s. Going out with two more in the Final Four before the league splinters seems like a nice touch for all those who care so much about East Coast hoops. Top 20 Big East basketball legends
Can we play already?
The Final Four teams have arrived. The Georgia Dome is dressed up and ready for a crowd of more than 74,000 for Saturday’s national semifinal games. Wichita State and Louisville clash in the first game, followed by Syracuse and Michigan. Cinderella against The Favorite, followed by two proud, traditional programs. There’s something for everyone and by late Monday night, college basketball will have a new national champion. Here are 10 storylines to consider as Saturday approaches. — Ken Davis Forgrave: Rutgers scandal has made games an afterthought
Replacing Kevin Ware
The broken leg suffered by Louisville guard Kevin Ware was the dominant headline from the Elite Eight. The Cardinals went on to beat Duke without Ware, but a season-ending injury of that magnitude is often felt more by a team in its next game. Louisville coach Rick Pitino says not having Ware will impact Louisville’s ability to substitute against Wichita State. Louisville’s fourth guard is walk-on Tim Henderson. “Kevin has great speed and length,” Pitino said. “He was playing his best basketball. Now you only have two backcourt players, Russ [Smith] and Peyton [Siva]. You can’t play them all those minutes.” Pitino may use Luke Hancock in the backcourt and forward Wayne Blackshear may assume some guard responsibilities defensively. “We’re just going to have to mix it up,” Pitino said. But, remember, the backcourt of Smith and Siva is the major reason Louisville is the favorite here. Forgrave: Love makes Louisville tightest team
Busting Syracuse’s zone
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim used the 2-3 zone to win a national championship in 2003 and his defense of choice is getting a lot of attention again this week. Callers to Syracuse radio talk shows may still insist that Boeheim abandon the strategy — especially after a loss. But it’s not happening. The 2-3 is his trademark and Syracuse executes it better than anyone. “There’s still a number of holdouts that think we should be playing man-to-man,” Boeheim said. “You can never win those people over. Especially when Kenny Smith goes on TV and says they would win the same amount of games playing man-to-man. Pro guys should stick to pro stuff. We lost to Le Moyne [in 2009] playing man-to-man after we worked on it for six straight weeks. And a week later we beat North Carolina by 20 [actually 16, but who’s counting?]. That might tell you something.” Coaches on how to beat the zone
What will Monday bring?
Louisville coach Rick Pitino is one of 12 finalists for election into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. The class of 2013 will be announced Monday in Atlanta, but there were multiple reports Friday that Pitino has been selected for enshrinement. That puts Pitino in rarified air, with the possibility of a true career day on Monday. This is Pitino’s seventh Final Four appearance and with a victory Saturday against Wichita State there is the possibility he could become a Hall of Famer and win the national championship on the same day. He would also become the first coach to win national titles at two schools. Former Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun was in the same position in 2004. Calhoun and his Huskies won the national title but he had to wait until 2005 to get the Hall of Fame vote. “[Pitino] belongs in the Hall of Fame,” said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who also was elected in 2005. “He’s a tremendous coach. He’s one of those 24-hour basketball coaches. That’s why he was the first [assistant] I hired when I got the job at Syracuse. I’m not stupid.” Forgrave: Man who made Pitino and more won't get into Hall, but should
Michigan coach John Beilein has been making offensive adjustments throughout the tournament. The Wolverines handled VCU’s havoc, took away Jeff Withey’s inside presence for Kansas, and methodically picked apart Florida. It helps that Michigan has guard Trey Burke, named Associated Press Player of the Year on Thursday. The question is whether Trey Burke can continue to distribute the ball, and can Mitch McGary have success inside against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone. The Wolverines haven’t seen anything like it this season. “We have to change what we do because we’re going to see the zone for 40 minutes,” Beilein said. “We all know it. Our hope is we have enough guys that see the floor that we don’t have to have the ball in one guy’s hands all the time.” FOX Sports Detroit: 3 reasons Michigan will win ... or lose
The MCW Factor
If Syracuse is going to win two more games and the national title, sophomore point guard Michael Carter-Williams will need to continue playing at a championship level. Carter-Williams is averaging 13.0 points with 19 assists, nine turnovers and 13 steals in the tournament. He is shooting 48.7 percent and is 4-for-8 from 3-point range. Carter-Williams had double-figure assists against eight non-conference opponents at the start of the season. He is the only player in Division I who ranks in the top five in both average assists (7.44) and steals (2.79). “That’s difficult out of a zone,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said of the steals. “There’s not as many steal opportunities as there are if you’re a pressing team. . . . His game has improved. He’s still got a tremendous up side.” Forgrave: Syracuse on run unlike any we have seen
Fab Five’s footsteps
It’s been 20 years since Michigan played in the Final Four. That was 1993, with the much-celebrated Fab Five that included Chris Webber, Juwan Howard and Jalen Rose. Of course, those Wolverines lost the title game to North Carolina when Webber called the timeout he didn’t have. But John Beilein, in his sixth season as Michigan’s coach, doesn’t feel the program remains in the Fab Five’s shadow. “To me it’s just about continuing to grow this program,” he said, “so that we’re in position to be in this position. Hopefully, one day, people will say, ‘He’s been in the Final Four so many times he needs to win it or win it more.’ . . . We’re all paid really well to do these things. Those are the expectations.” FOX Sports Detroit: Freshmen no Fab Five, but Michigan not here without them
Handling the Louisville guards
Louisville’s national semifinal game against Wichita State is being hyped as a matchup of guards. Peyton Siva and Russ Smith of Louisville are in the Final Four for the second consecutive season and they are at the center of everything the Cardinals do, offensively and defensively. But Wichita State senior Malcolm Armstead, the Most Outstanding Player in the West Regional, anchors Wichita State’s three-guard lineup. “Russ Smith is like a contortionist with his body,” Shockers coach Gregg Marshall said. “Malcolm is a little different. Malcolm is more of a mini-train. He’s stronger, stockier, thicker, not quite as shifty. He can bully a [smaller] guard a little bit. I’m not saying he’s going to bully Russ Smith or Peyton Siva, but he has tremendous strength in his hands, thighs and lower body. That’s how he gets to the rim.” FOX Sports Kansas City: 3 reasons the Shockers will shock us
Marshall starting to mellow?
Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall describes junior forward Cleanthony Early as “an electric cord that’s been severed and sparks are coming out of it.” And Marshall says that’s exactly what he was like in 1998 when he got his first head-coaching job at Winthrop. As he has displayed in the tournament, he’s still intense on the sidelines, but calmer than he was at Winthrop. “We had a beautiful 6,100-seat arena,” Marshall said. “We probably had 500 fans at the first game I coached. You could hear every voice, every sneaker squeak. I needed to infuse some energy into that program and energy into my team. But you mellow as you get older. Not to the point where I’m sedated, but I’m still a lot calmer than I was at that point. And hopefully wiser.” FOX Sports Kansas City: Marshall never forgets roots
Show some respect
Wichita State is back in the Final Four for the first time since 1965, representing the Missouri Valley Conference. In this age of realignment it seems noteworthy that the Shockers have been affiliated with The Valley for 68 years. The conference was founded in 1907 and only the Big Ten is older. Thirty-two schools have enjoyed Valley membership at one time or another and the conference proudly points out that’s eight percent of all Division I programs. Louisville was a Valley member from 1964-65 to 1974-75. The last MVC team to reach the Final Four? Indiana State, led by Larry Bird, in 1979. In celebration of the Final Four’s 75th anniversary, USA Today just named the Bird vs. Magic Final Four the greatest ever. It certainly did change the event forever. Forgrave: Hard work has shaped Wichita State