NCAA Tournament: Final Four Preview
- Updated: March 30, 2017
It’s the grand finale of the 2016-17 College Basketball season and four teams make the trip to the desert in hopes of taking home a national title.
It’s fair to say that the storylines heading into the 79th Final Four happen to be more intriguing than what we’ve seen in years past. Both Gonzaga and South Carolina have never reached the Final Four before, while Oregon hasn’t been to the Final Four since it won the inaugural national championship back in 1939. Not only that, head coaches Mark Few (Gonzaga), Frank Martin (South Carolina) and Dana Altman (Oregon) have never coached in a Final Four.
That leaves 14-year head coach Roy Williams and North Carolina as the only program to have any Final Four experience. The Tar Heels, of course, lost to Villanova in the title game 77-74 last year on a Kris Jenkins’ buzzer beater.
With much anticipation heading into the weekend, let’s take a look at the semifinal matchups as the Pacific Northwest battles the Carolina’s.
#7 South Carolina vs. #1 Gonzaga 5:09pm CT CBS
While both programs make their first appearance in the Final Four, both had two different types of the runs in the NCAA Tournament. South Carolina, who had not won a game in the tournament since 1973, upset second-seeded Duke in the second round to begin its run to the Final Four. On the other hand, Gonzaga was just hoping this would finally be the year it could get over the hump after years of disappointing NCAA Tournament finishes.
Frank Martin’s Gamecocks have clearly been the Cinderella team in the dance this year, despite only being a seven seed. South Carolina’s strong defense is the main reason for its success in the tournament. It has recorded 30 steals and out rebounded both Baylor and Florida in the past two games. Not to mention, the Gamecocks held the Bears and Gators to a combined 10-of-39 (25.6%) from beyond the arc. If South Carolina is going to have any success on the offensive end it will be up SEC Player of the Year Sindarius Thornwell who has averaged an impressive 25.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in the tournament.
After 19 straight NCAA Tournament appearances the Final Four has finally become a reality for Gonzaga and head coach Mark Few. While the Bulldogs have a program-best 36 wins this season, Few has arguably his most talented team yet.
Nigel Williams-Goss is among the best players in the nation and has helped take this Gonzaga program to the next level after transferring from Washington. The junior is averaging 16.7 points per game, while the other transfers Jordan Mathews and Johnathan Williams are averaging double digits as well. 7-1 center Przemek Karnowski, who has averaged 12.2 ppg and 5.8 rpg this season, will hope to cause problems in the paint against South Carolina.
The Gamecocks have been tough defensively, but the Bulldogs are among the best in the country when is comes to defending as well. This contest will come down to which team can be the most productive on the offensive end. Will it be Thornwell or Williams-Goss that lead their team to the championship game on Monday night?
#3 Oregon vs. #1 North Carolina 7:49pm CT CBS
The Ducks and Tar Heels were Final Four contenders throughout the regular season and were expected to be in the mix to advance to Glendale. Then Oregon lost big man Chris Bouche and all hope appeared to be lost for the third-seeded Ducks following the Pac-12 Conference Tournament.
Dana Altman and Co. have since pulled off last second wins against Rhode Island and Michigan, along with an upset win in the Regional Final against No. 1 seed Kansas. The Ducks have been strong on both ends of the floor with Tyler Dorsey and Dillon Brooks knocking down key shots and Jordan Bell putting on a block party. Dorsey and Brooks combined for 44 points against Kansas, while Bell recorded 13 total rebounds and eight blocks. Oregon appears to be back to normal, despite Boucher’s absence, and will be looking to compete for its first national title in 78 years.
North Carolina is making its second straight Final Four appearance and 20th in program history. Not to mention, it’s head coach Roy William’s ninth Final Four appearance. The Tar Heels are the most complete team remaining and for good reason. They have the experience, size and talent to beat anyone in the country.
North Carolina is the best rebounding team in the country, as it has recorded a nation-best 1,660 rebounds and impressive 43.7 rebounds per game. 6-10 senior Kennedy Meeks leads the Tar Heels with 9.3 rebounds per game along with 12.3 points per game. All-American forward Justin Jackson is among the best players in the country with a team-best 18.2 ppg and will look to cause problems for the Ducks as well. The big question will be how productive Joel Berry can be after suffering a second ankle injury in the Elite Eight against Kentucky.
If there is a matchup for Oregon in this tournament where Boucher would be the most useful, it would be this one. Bell is going to have continue to step up down low on both ends of the floor to give the Ducks any sort of presence on the boards.
North Carolina has an opportunity to advance to the national title game again if it does not play like it did against SEC foes Arkansas and Kentucky. The Tar Heels’ 38 percent from the field and 5-of-17 from beyond the arc almost costed them in the second round against Arkansas. Then two games later, North Carolina was 3-of-15 from beyond the arc and had to rely on a last second jumper from Luke Maye to get past Kentucky. If it comes down to poor shooting, the game will favor Oregon as it can knock down shots and have success from behind the three-point line.