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Ben Smith

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Madness at home in this tourney

And now on to Atlanta, and a Final Four for every appetite. Diversity is our deal now, right?

And so we’ve got Louisville, the lordly No. 1 seed, for those uncomfortable living outside the box.

We’ve got Syracuse and its 2-3 matchup zone for the tinkerers and X-and-O junkies.

We’ve got Michigan – because another weekend of Trey Burke, like another Cadbury egg, is never a bad thing – and Wichita State.

Somebody’s gotta be Butler, after all. Or George Mason.

This time around it’s the Shockers, who’ll carry the Cinderella banner to Atlanta trailed by a whiff of ancient tragedy, as well as the ghost of a certain self-styled Indiana bumpkin. Sometime this week, eventually, someone will mark Wichita State’s first trip to the Final Four in 48 years by mentioning the plane crash 43 years ago that killed half the school’s football team. And some other time this week, someone will bring up Larry Bird (and Carl Nicks and Bob Heaton and Brad Miley and Alex Gilbert, too, surely), because Wichita State is the first Missouri Valley Conference school to reach the Final Four since Larry and his crew took Indiana State there in 1979.

In that vein, it’s easy to look at the Shockers and their No. 9 seeding and say they’re a restaurant-quality fluke, but this isn’t the season to say that. What you should say instead is they’re proof the prevailing wisdom has prevailed.

Everyone said this would be as wide open and thoroughly mad as March Madness ever gets. And, well, here you are: It’s a No. 1 seed and two No. 4 seeds and Wichita State, the rogue element all the scholars assured us was out there.

But rogue elements or not – and Wichita State, ranked in the top 25 early in the season, isn’t as rogue as it appears – certain truisms have held true. Defense wins in March, and so we’ve got Syracuse’s 2-3 and Louisville’s searing, turnover-milking pressure and a Wichita State “D” that’s allowed four opponents to shoot under 36 percent. Solid backcourt play tends to take you deep in the tournament, and so here are Peyton Siva and Russ Smith at Louisville, and Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. at Michigan, and Ron Baker and Malcolm Armistead at Wichita State.

Rebounding gets you through the inevitable dry spells – and so here is Syracuse’s shot-altering length on the backside of its zone, and the emergence of Mitch McGary down low for Michigan, and the avid board-crashers of Wichita State, who’ve outrebounded their four tournament opponents 154-137.

So who wins?

The smart money says Louisville, but the smart money’s been dumb a lot already in this Dance. So who knows?

Maybe Syracuse and that confounding 2-3 zone hypnotizes everyone two more times, and Jim Boeheim wins his second title.

Maybe Trey Burke, the Player of the Year if there’s any common sense left in the world, puts Michigan on his back again.

Maybe Wichita State keeps kicking the form chart in its tender parts, and the Shockers give their school its biggest thrill since a certain Northrop grad named Eric Wedge was taking it to the College World Series title in the late 1980s.

In which case, there is this to consider: Baseball season begins again this week.

One more sign to divine.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.