Full-Court Press: Louisville rules thrilling season

The NCAA Tournament does not always award its title to the best team in the field due to its one-and-done format. It did this season with Louisville.

Entering the 2012-13 season, Indiana was the favorite to take home the NCAA Tournament championship.

Coach Tom Crean did a terrific job making Indiana one of the national powers again, but it was Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals who cut down the nets in Atlanta, beating Michigan 82-76, in the championship game behind Luke Hancock's 22 points.

The Cardinals were a very deserving team as they put on a consistently strong performance throughout the campaign. They exhibited talent, team chemistry and mental toughness throughout the course of their title run. Pitino's focus on defensive pressure and obviously a strong relationship with his players made Louisville unstoppable when it mattered.

The horrific injury that reserve guard Kevin Ware experienced in the Elite Eight will never be forgotten. Neither will the way his teammates and coaches rallied after Ware motivated them by saying, "I'll be fine. Just go get this win," as he was carried away.

The Cardinals winning the title was not too big of a surprise considering they were the No. 2 team in the preseason polls. Louisville emerged from what seemed to be one of the deepest fields in NCAA Tournament history.

Many thought the other powerhouse school from the Bluegrass State would be back in the Final Four. Kentucky, which was ranked third coming into the season, failed to return to the Big Dance to defend its crown. John Calipari's recruiting skills are second to none and he managed to lead the Wildcats to last season's crown with a crop of underclassmen.

Kentucky fans hoped Calipari could repeat that feat with freshmen Nerlens Noel and Archie Goodwin, but the team was the biggest disappointment of the season as it failed to make it to the NCAA Tournament and lost in the opening round of the NIT.

Kentucky was not the only school to have a disappointed fan base at the conclusion of their season. North Carolina State, UCLA, Murray State, Saint Joseph's, Drexel and Florida State all failed to meet high expectations.

There were a handful of surprise teams as well. Saint Louis played inspired basketball all season under interim head coach Jim Crews, who took over for the legendary Rick Majerus over the summer. After Majerus passed away midseason, the Billikens raised their level of play to dominate the Atlantic 10 Conference.

Gonzaga managed to climb the polls and claim the No. 1 ranking just before the conclusion of the regular season. Although Mark Few's Bulldogs lost in the third round of the NCAA Tournament to Wichita State, they had a stellar run overall.

The Shockers made history after downing Gonzaga as they charged past La Salle and Ohio State into the Final Four. Gregg Marshall showed he is one of the most talented coaches in the country while guiding Wichita State, which played Louisville very tough in the semifinals.

Miami (Fla.) also made a name for itself this season and will no longer be considered only a football school. Jim Larranaga instilled a new winning culture into his program. The Hurricanes, like Gonzaga, ran out of steam in the Big Dance, but there was a time when they were the best team in the country.

Indiana's Victor Oladipo had a breakout season. The junior guard was overshadowed by his teammates Cody Zeller, Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls coming into the season, but Oladipo emerged as one of the top athletes in the nation as he was continuously effective on both ends of the floor.

Oladipo was named to a First Team All-American along with Trey Burke (Michigan), Doug McDermott (Creighton), Kelly Olynyk (Gonzaga) and Otto Porter (Georgetown).

McDermott didn't sneak up on anybody and was the focal point of every defensive game plan he faced all season. The Creighton forward managed to guide the Bluejays to the Missouri Valley Conference regular season and conference tournament championships. If McDermott returns for his senior year, he will have a chance of being named a First Team All-American for the third season in a row.

Olynyk, who was redshirted last season, played a vital role in Gonzaga's record-setting season. The seven-footer from Canada showed off a soft shooting touch while also using his size and length to physically dominate opponents.

Porter single-handedly made Georgetown look like one of the fiercest schools in college basketball. Although the Hoyas were upset by the Cinderella Florida Gulf Coast Eagles in the Big Dance, John Thompson III's team earned a second- seed because of excellence play, led by Porter's superb leadership.

Burke, the consensus national player of the year, was the engine for Michigan as it returned to the Final Four for the first time since Jalen Rose and Chris Webber wore blue and maize. The sophomore has all the tools needed to be a great point guard. Although the Wolverines had plenty of talent surrounding him, Burke was clearly the cause of his squad's success.

Michigan's season is a good example of the national unpredictability this season. It seemed unbeatable at time and rose to take over the No. 1 ranking in the national polls before transforming into a team that appeared to be average at best.

The Wolverines were one of two teams to lose to Penn State in conference play this season. After it was dealt a nine-point loss in the Big Ten Tournament by Wisconsin, the fourth-seeded Michigan transformed back into national title contender before falling just short against Louisville.

While this season was wild, it might be even tougher to make sense of next season. The constant movement of teams to and from different conferences along with coaching and personnel changes will send us into 2013-14 with a myriad of questions.

Anticipation may be at an all-time high as we wait for the arrival of the new season.