The Final Four will pit a storied program against a fairy tale in the making on one side.
The other will feature the lone Big Ten team standing against a team trying to end its Big East era in historic fashion.
After a season in which parity was the storyline, No. 1 seed Louisville, No. 9 Wichita State, No. 4 Syracuse and No. 4 Michigan gather in Atlanta, all hoping to win two more games and earn the NCAA tournament championship.
No. 1 Louisville was fueled by the loss of guard Kevin Ware to a gruesome leg injury to beat No. 2 Duke in the Elite Eight.
The Cardinals, who received the nation’s support for the loss of Ware, is back in familiar territory. They lost to Kentucky in last season’s Final Four. This season they meet a team with far less notoriety in Wichita State, which is navigating new territory.
Of the three teams in the tournament from Kansas, including the Jayhawks and Kansas State, few thought Wichita State would be the one in the Final Four.
The aptly named Shockers are the first No. 9 seed to advance to the Final Four since the tournament expanded to 64 teams.
But a mid-major storyline is nothing new in the recent history of the tournament. A so-called mid-major Cinderella has appeared in three of the last four Final Fours with Butler appearing in 2010 and 2011 and VCU joining the Bulldogs last season.
The only thing missing is a championship.
The appearance by Wichita State will do wonders for the Missouri Valley Conference’s reputation.
The last time a MVC team appeared in the Final Four, there was a guy named Larry Bird competing for Indiana State.
Who could have seen Wichita State’s tournament run coming? The Shockers finished second in the conference, losing twice to Evansville and to Indiana State and Southern Illinois.
But they’re headed to Atlanta after holding Ohio State to 31 percent shooting and 20 percent on 3-pointers in the Elite Eight victory.
Michigan and Syracuse have slightly more history, but the game features an interesting crossing of paths between the coaches.
Michigan coach John Beilein can dust off some old scouting reports on No. 4 Syracuse from his days as a Big East coach at West Virginia. The two also are familiar with each other from the time Beilein coached at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., from 1983-92 as he worked his way up the coaching ladder.
The Wolverines will face the Orange and their perplexing 2-3 zone defense.
Boeheim is making his fourth trip to the Final Four, the last time in 2003 resulting in his only national championship. The Orange solved top-seeded Indiana 61-51 by neutralizing Cody Zeller to earn a trip.
Michigan’s Trey Burke is the last of the top player of the year candidates still competing. And the Wolverines still are competing mostly because of him.
He hit a long 3-pointer with 4.3 seconds left in regulation against top-seeded Kansas to force overtime and after a rough start finished with 23 points and 10 assists.
In a bracket-busted season, one team will end an unpredictable tournament as champion.