This all looked a little familiar from the outset, but nobody could have accurately foreseen just how the East would shake out to this point. Nevertheless, here we are, still standing. Louisville has reached the Elite Eight, and the uncanny resemblance of past tournaments has only been augmented amidst the madness.
Just like all other basketball games, today's regional final against Michigan State could go one of two ways. In that spirit, let's take a look at a couple of past Elite Eight trips that look an awful lot like the current one for different reasons.
2009 — No. 1 Louisville - 52, No. 2 Michigan State - 64
2009 is different from this year in that Louisville was the top seed in the Tournament that season. The outcome wasn't favorable, but it's worth mentioning that we've seen this matchup here before.
Goran Suton and the Spartans stymied Louisville, particularly Terrence Williams, en route to a Final Four in their back yard. Williams only made one field goal in the game as Louisville bowed out too early. We don't need to talk about 2009 a whole lot more, though, because it gets better.
2012 — No. 4 Louisville - 72, No. 7 Florida - 68
Here's the case we all should focus on if we're looking for precedent to follow. This one rings a bell since Louisville is a No. 4 seed playing a No. 7 seed again in the Elite Eight, but the real resemblance actually came a round earlier.
Before Louisville could beat Florida, it had to beat none other than No. 1-seeded Michigan State. The Cards got it done, winning 57-44 behind Chane Behanan's 15 points and Russ Smith's 11 off the bench.
If you look hard enough (it doesn't take much in today's case), it seems as if almost anything can be intertwined in college basketball, and there are plenty of intriguing storylines heading into today's game that we've seen before.
For starters, it's Tom Izzo and Rick Pitino, Michigan State and Louisville. Two institutions of the college game, playing for a spot in the Final Four.
Digging just a little further, there are a few freshmen from that 2012 meeting between the Cards and the Spartans who will take center stage when their teams meet again this year. Wayne Blackshear, Travis Trice and Branden Dawson combined to score zero points in 2012 (Dawson was injured), but they'll enter this game averaging 11.1, 15.3 and 11.9 points per game, respectively.
Technically, No. 4 seeds aren't "supposed" to make it this far into the NCAA Tournament, with No. 7 seeds being even more rare. More than anything, that feeling for both fan bases that they really didn't expect to be a game from the Final Four is what makes all of this so similar.
Yes, in 2012, Louisville entered the NCAA Tournament with momentum as Big East champions, but it had lost four of six before the conference tournament. Like this year, there was reasonable doubt regarding how far Louisville could really go. I can only speak for myself, but Louisville's offensive struggles this year led me to worry that if the ball bounced the wrong way (it nearly did), the Cards would be done very early.
But the ball hasn't bounced the wrong way, and Louisville has only gotten better as the Tournament has waged on, just like they did in 2012.
It's easy to get caught up in the Michigan State flashbacks, but after beating Sparty by double-digits in 2012's Sweet 16, Louisville had to battle to win a close game over Florida in the round the Cards currently find themselves in. So while the Louisville pulled away on Friday, today's conclusion likely won't be as comfortable for whatever reason (quick turnaround between games, lack of time to watch film, Michigan State matches up well, other things).
This year, Blackshear, Trice and Dawson will be in their teams' starting lineups with just a little more on the line than when they were freshmen. It will still be Izzo vs. Pitino, Michigan State vs. Louisville.
Those things all make this feel so familiar, but we all know that past results in the NCAA Tournament are far from a direct indicator of how games will go in the future. Still, it's fun to think about the fact that if things go as they did in 2012, Louisville will head to the Final Four for the third time in four years.
They say those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it, but a trip to Indianapolis would make for some history Cardinal fans won't mind repeating.