After almost a full week, the Final Four is finally upon us. The field started at 68 and has been whittled to four.Each team remaining has had a different road to get to Houston. Whether it has been close games, comebacks or blowouts, these four teams have been through it all. Each team has a chance to game plan against each other, so I’m anticipating two very close games in the Final Four.
#2 Villanova vs. #2 Oklahoma
This is a matchup of two #2 seeds, but only one will make it to the National Championship Game. Villanova has been rolling through opponents, winning all but one game by double figures. The only win by less than 10 was the Elite Eight victory over number one overall seed Kansas. They maneuvered through arguably the hardest region in the tournament, much to the surprise of many.
The Wildcats’ offense has been rolling in the tournament, scoring over 80 points per game and shooting 55% as a team. Seniors Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu have upped their level of play for head coach Jay Wright, and they’ll need those two to continue their great play if they want to knock off the Sooners. Josh Hart has been the Wildcats’ best player all season long, and he’s due for a breakout game after struggling against Kansas.
The defense for the Wildcats can’t be overlooked, however. Daniel Ochefu has been a solid rim protector in his time for Villanova, but with Oklahoma’s perimeter oriented attack, he may not be a major defensive factor in this one.
The X-Factor for the Wildcats could be Mikal Bridges, who came up huge in the win over Kansas. He had five steals, including the game sealing steal with under 10 seconds left. With Oklahoma’s high powered offense, Bridges will likely have a larger role come Saturday night.
Oklahoma has the best player in college basketball on their roster in Buddy Hield, and that alone could make them the favorite in this game. Hield has been scorching hot in the tournament, scoring just under 30 points per game in four games. His last time out he ended Oregon’s run with a 37 point outburst. But Hield isn’t a one man team for the Sooners.
Jordan Woodard has really stepped up his game when it matters most. He’s been the secondary scorer all year for Oklahoma, but has been both efficient and effective in March. He’s scored in double figures in each game, and carried the Sooners against Texas A&M in the Sweet Sixteen, scoring 22 on 8/11 shooting.
Much like Villanova, Oklahoma only has one inside presence, but theirs is in the form of bouncy sophomore Khadeem Lattin. Lattin rejected 2.1 shots per contest for the Sooners this year in a much expanded role. He’s not much of a scorer, but his defense is invaluable.
The X-Factor for the Sooners isn’t just one player, but it’s their effectiveness on the boards. In this tournament their pulling in north of 36 rebounds a game. Their dominance on the glass is one of their greatest strengths and often goes unnoticed. Led by the efforts of senior Ryan Spangler, the Sooners love to crash both ends of the boards.
I like the Sooners to take this one and move on to the National Championship Game. This will be a very even matchup, both teams love to shoot the three and are veteran led rosters, but the overall talent of Oklahoma and the rebounding edge of the Sooners will be too much for the Wildcats.
#1 North Carolina vs #10 Syracuse
Talk about having different roads to the Final Four. North Carolina has been steamrolling opponent, wining each game by double figures. Syracuse on the other hand, has hand a crazy March. They started off as a questionable team included in the field, then won a thriller against Gonzaga in the Sweet Sixteen, and then had an unbelievable comeback against Virginia in the Elite Eight.
This will be the third meeting between these ACC foes, with UNC winning both previous match ups.
North Carolina is the only number one seed remaining and have been carried by Brice Johnson to this point. Johnson, who was a monster all season, has continued his rage on the NCAA in March. In four games, the senior is averaging 21 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. He’s been the main cog in an offense scoring just below 90 points a game. The ‘Heels may be balanced, but they run through Johnson night in and night out. The high powered offense has also been efficient, shooting 51% as a team and have been sharing the ball on offense with over 15 assists per game.
The X-Factor for the Tarheels will be seeing how they attack the Syracuse zone. North Carolina isn’t a great three point shooting team, and the zone usually forces teams to shoot from the perimeter. If Marcus Paige can get hot early, it will be tough for the Orangemen to stop the Tarheels.
When you think of Syracuse basketball you think of the 2-3 zone. It has given opponents fits all season long, and has really been effective in the tournament. But the full court press the Orangemen put on Virginia in the Elite Eight, along with the sweet shooting of Malachi Richardson, the Orange were able to come back and shock the college basketball world. The zone has been key for Syracuse because the offense hasn’t been very effective.
In four games, the offense has been shooting just 41% as a team. One of the bright spots for the Orange has been senior Michael Gbinije, who is scoring 16 points per game, but he’s still only shooting 41%. In the tournament, Gbinije has been the go-to scorer and has been the leading assist man, dishing out four per game.
Another bright spot for Syracuse has been junior Tyler Roberson, who has been a beast on the boards. He’s bringing in 11.8 rebounds a game, with 5.5 of them being on the offensive end. He was the X-factor against Gonzaga, as he kept multiple plays alive with hustle on the offensive boards.
The X-Factor for Syracuse will be the play of their freshmen. Tyler Lydon and Malachi Richardson played huge parts in the upset over Virginia. Richardson led the second half comeback, scoring 21 of his 23 in the latter half. Lydon had an all around great game for Syracuse. He had 11 points and hit a three without a shoe, so that was cool. The freshman from New Jersey also had six rebounds and five clutch blocks, with one of them being the game sealing rejection.
The Cuse wouldn’t be in the Final Four if it wasn’t for the play of their freshmen, and they won’t get to the National Championship without them.
North Carolina is better on paper, and they are familiar enough with the Syracuse zone to not get rattled by it, but then again, so was Virginia. I think this game will be closer than most people think, but UNC is just too talented across the board to slip up against Syracuse.
Cover Photo via NCAA.com