The Final Four
March 27, 2017
by Chase Gage
PHOENIX — The Final Four is set. Four teams remain, but there is only one trophy.
As I did in the previous article, I will be transparent here and reveal my Final Four according to my bracket versus the actual Final Four. Try not to laugh too hard.
|My Final Four||The Real Final Four|
|7 South Carolina|
|1 North Carolina|
I got exactly zero of the Final Four correct, though I was pretty accurate on which seeds would make it. I predicted a one, two, three and seven seed. In reality, there were two one-seeds, a three and a seven. So I basically only missed one, right?
Reaching this stage of college basketball is the stuff that dreams are made of. Getting this far without winning a championship, though, may forever leave an empty feeling in the guts of the players and fans alike. Making it this far is an astounding accomplishment, but these teams aren’t satisfied just yet. They’ve got their eyes on the real prize.
How did each team get here? Who should be considered the favorite? Is the Cinderella story still alive? Who will cut down the nets in Phoenix? There are many unanswered questions, but luckily for you, I have the answers (note: I do not actually have the answers).
7 South Carolina vs 1 Gonzaga
Road to the Final Four:
- First Round, defeated 16 South Dakota State 66-46
- Second Round, defeated 8 Northwestern 79-73
- Sweet 16, defeated 4 West Virginia 61-58
- Elite Eight, defeated 11 Xavier 83-59
- First Round, defeated 10 Marquette 93-73
- Second Round, defeated 2 Duke 88-81
- Sweet 16, defeated 3 Baylor 70-50
- Elite Eight, defeated 4 Florida 77-70
Overview: This will be a battle of two teams that are making their Final Four debut. One is a one-seed. The other is a seven-seed. One has a record of 36-1. The other has a record of 26-10. One will obviously be the favorite, but will the other be my pick?
South Carolina has been on a dominant run through this tournament, boasting an average margin of victory of 13.5 points. They have knocked out the likes of Duke and Baylor, as well as SEC East foe Florida en route to their first-ever Final Four appearance. Senior Sindarius Thornwell has been the spark that has led the Gamecocks this far. He is averaging 25.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in the NCAA Tournament while shooting 50 percent (30 of 60) from the field, 42 percent (11 of 26) from three and 82 percent (32 of 39) from the free throw line. This is not a one-man team, but they have one man that can dominate this game and earn the title of tournament MVP.
The Zags have been almost as dominant as South Carolina thus far, with their average margin of victory being an astounding 13.25 points (a whole 0.25 behind South Carolina). Gonzaga has found ways to win in multiple close-call games. They have only lost once this season, and do not plan to do so again. They have all the tools to win a championship, even though they have some haters…
“Do not pick (Gonzaga) as the first one-seed to lose solely because of their history. Pick them as the first one-seed to lose because they’re the worst one-seed.” – Me
I guess I was wrong about that. Gonzaga is the real deal. They’re here to win. They play great on both sides of the ball and have enough talent to win the whole thing. They have silenced the haters (for now) and earned the respect of the masses (I’m still on the fence). Can they finally make it to the promised land?
Prediction: I expect this game to come down to the very end. Teams don’t make it this far and then fail to compete. This is the most elite level of college basketball. This won’t be a blowout either way. The biggest factors that come into play in the NCAA Tournament in my experience are:
- Who’s hot at the right time
Both teams are hot, there’s no doubt about that. But which one is hotter? I’d take South Carolina. Which team has the better coach? Well, Mark Few from Gonzaga has made the tournament 18-consecutive times since 2000, has reached the Sweet 16 seven times, the Elite Eight twice, and is making his first Final Four appearance. Frank Martin, on the other hand, is making just his fifth trip to the NCAA Tournament since he became a head coach in 2007. The Zags hold the advantage here. Now on to seniors.
Both teams have three seniors. For Gonzaga, they are Rem Bakamus, Przemek Karnowski and Jordan Mathews. For South Carolina, they are Justin McKie, Duane Notice and of course Sindarius Thornwell. Karnowski (7’1, 300 lbs.) has been an unstoppable force underneath the basket throughout the tournament for the Zags. Thornwell, the SEC Player of the Year, though, is playing better than anyone else in college basketball right now. The edge goes to South Carolina.
So, ready for my pick? Both teams are making their first-ever Final Four appearance, but only one will be making their first-ever championship appearance. That team will be the Gamecocks from South Carolina.
3 Oregon vs 1 North Carolina
Road to the Final Four:
- First Round, defeated 16 Texas Southern 103-64
- Second Round, defeated 8 Arkansas 72-65
- Sweet 16, defeated 4 Butler 92-80
- Elite Eight, defeated 2 Kentucky 75-73
- First Round, defeated 14 Iona 93-77
- Second Round, defeated 11 Rhode Island 75-72
- Sweet 16, defeated 7 Michigan 69-68
- Elite Eight, defeated 1 Kansas 74-60
Overview: These two teams have become accustomed to close calls. North Carolina survived a scare against Arkansas in the second round and then needed a buzzer-beater to take down Kentucky in the regional championship. Oregon, on the other hand, was barely able to escape Rhode Island in the second round and had Michigan been able to connect on their buzzer-beating attempt in the Sweet 16, the Ducks wouldn’t be here right now.
Oregon is making their first Final Four appearance since they won the inaugural NCAA Tournament in 1939. North Carolina is making their first appearance since, well, last year when they lost to Villanova in the championship. In fact, the Tar Heels are making their 20th appearance in the Final Four, the most by any school.
It has been 78 years since the Ducks have cut down the nets, while its only been eight years for North Carolina. The Tar Heels lost last year’s championship on a buzzer-beating three by Villanova and are looking for redemption. Oregon has made it as far as the Elite Eight in recent years and is looking to finally get over the hump and solidify their status as a contender. Both teams know how to overcome adversity and are both playing at a championship level. This will be a great matchup.
Prediction: This one is tough. Well, the other one was too. When teams are playing at this level, anything can happen. The Ducks are on a roll after a couple of close calls while North Carolina is lucky to still be standing after Malik Monk tied their Elite Eight game with seven seconds remaining. They are here, though, and luck is just part of the tournament. Whichever team gets the ball to bounce the right way is often the team that prevails in the end.
When it comes to coaching, the Tar Heels hold the advantage. Not to take anything away from Dana Altman, but Roy Williams is one of the best coaches of our generation. He knows how to win when it matters. He has two national titles to go along with eight (this will make nine) Final Four appearances. Altman made his first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2013 and has been back four times since. He reached the Elite Eight last season, but the Ducks lost at the hands of Oklahoma State.
The Ducks are new to this stage. The Tar Heels were in the championship just a year ago. Experience paired with great coaching is the recipe for success in the NCAA Tournament. North Carolina returns to the National Championship game in what (I predict) will be a battle of the Carolinas.
Well, there you have it. The next-to-last March Madness article of 2017. Sorry…starting to tear up a little. It’s just so sad. It has been such a great tournament and I am not ready for it to end. Anyway, thanks for reading and sticking with me through this journey of missed picks and busted brackets. Until the ‘ship, readers.
*image via @sportscenter Instagram*