Indianapolis -- The Louisville Cardinals declined to cut down the nets after winning the Midwest Regional here Sunday, their thinking being that there's only one one set of nets worth snipping. I understand the notion, but I disagree, and I cite Bluegrass precedent.
In 2003, the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats refused to claim their nylon prize after winning the SEC tournament in the Superdome, figuring they would be back in the same arena three weeks later for the Final Four and they'd do the deed then. They never made it. Dwyane Wade of Marquette triple-doubled Kentucky in the regional final in Minneapolis, and Kentucky was left with no netting from what had been a shining season. Again, I get Louisville's point, but I also know that there are no guarantees in the NCAA tournament.
Ask Georgetown. The 1985 Hoyas were defending a title and defending it so powerfully they actually struck fear into the hearts of opponents -- until they reached the national championship game and found Villanova, which had already played Georgetown twice and lost narrowly both times, waiting. On April Fool's Day 28 years ago, 'Nova made 78.6 percent of its and beat one of the best teams ever by two points. It CAN happen.
Do I think it will happen to Louisville in the Georgia Dome? Nope. The Cardinals are the class of a not-overly-imposing Final Four field. Wichita State lost twice in March to Creighton, which was ousted from the Big Dance by Duke. Michigan tied for fourth in the Big Ten and closed the regular season by losing six of 12 games. Syracuse lost four of its five regular-season games to finish fifth in the Big East, and in its farewell game -- the Orange will join the ACC this summer -- at old rival Georgetown the 'Cuse were beaten 61-39.
No, none of that matters now. Still, this Final Four pales alongside the last quartet to reach the Dome. In 2007, the four qualifiers -- UCLA, Florida, Ohio State and Georgetown -- had combined for 14 national championships. The total this time is four: Two for Louisville, one each for Syracuse and Michigan, none for the Shockers.
Not to carp overmuch, but the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight weren't exactly riveting entertainment. The average margin of victory in the regional finals was 15.5 points, and the only game even close at the end was Wichita State's victory over Ohio State, in which the Shockers had led by 20. Of the eight regional semis, only two -- Ohio State's last-second victory over Arizona and the Kansas collapse against Michigan -- were decided by fewer than eight points.
The Final Four has the capacity to make all things right. Will it? The Syracuse-Michigan semi is a fascinating divergence of styles, and it will be fun -- at least for a while -- to see Wichita State take its shot at mighty Louisville. (Even before the Shockers beat Ohio State, Louisville coach Rick Pitino was saying they were capable of winning it all.) But the Cardinals could well rule the Dome in the way they ruled Lucas Oil Stadium here, the way Florida wound up dominating the 2007 Final Four.
The disdain with which Louisville dispatched Duke -- surely the second-best team left in the field -- on a day when reserve guard Kevin Ware of Rockdale County High suffered the worst leg injury most of us have ever seen was breathtaking. "They play so hard," Mike Krzyzewski said, and when you play harder than Duke you've really done something.
The Final Four is Louisville's to lose, and it's hard to imagine the Cardinals losing. But stranger things have happened, which is why, were I the Cards, I'd be snipping every net that's there for the taking. No matter how good you are, nothing in this tournament is guaranteed.