If you were to tell the most knowledgeable analyst on any of the major sports shows that the final four would include South Carolina, UNC, Oregon, and Gonzaga, they wouldn’t think twice before dismissing your claims. Now that we are in this stage of the big dance, there’s nothing left to do, other than diagnose what went down in each round thus far, and critique who’s left.
Beginning with the East vs. West matchup that pits #7 South Carolina against #1 Gonzaga, both teams had a rather interesting road to the final four. South Carolina started with Marquette in the round of 64, then went on to beat the 2, 3, and 4 seeds in successive games, displaying their sheer strength and ability.
The big story for the Gamecocks throughout their run, is the play of Sindarius Thornwell. Averaging about 26 points, along with 7.5 rebounds throughout the four games of the NCAA tournament, Thornwell has been tearing it up for his team. The four year, NBA hopeful is having the best season of his career, stepping up in every category other than assists.
When it comes to their opponent on the other hand, Gonzaga squeaked past Northwestern by a score of 79-73, and West Virginia by a score of 61-58. Both of these narrow victories could have changed the landscape of the tournament, being that not only did the one seed in the East, Villanova, lose, but also the one seed in the Midwest, Kansas, lost as well.
Head Coach for the Bulldogs, Mark Few, has been rallying the troops throughout the entirety of the 2016 season, going 36-1, losing only to BYU. Nigel Williams-Goss has been the one player on the floor for Gonzaga to get to the hoop, and pick up the wins. A huge reason why Gonzaga has found success on offense, is their ability to lockdown on defense with Przemek Karnowski. The 7 foot 1 inch big man is an immoveable object on the floor, halting opponents in their tracks.
Oregon is making their first appearance back in the final four since their historic 1939 title run, taking down one of the nations greatest, the Kansas Jayhawks. Many analysts were discussing players such as Frank Mason, or Josh Hart, but not many would mention Tyler Dorsey. Averaging about 25 points and 5 rebounds per game in the tournament, Dorsey is doing it all for the Ducks.
A tough game ahead of the Ducks will put the Tarheels in their sights, a team that a year ago almost won it all. Taking down Kentucky in the last matchup could have easily went the opposite direction, as sophomore Luke Maye hit the game winning shot, along with tallying 17 points. Young players stepping up when it counts is what this entire tournament is about, and what makes college basketball so great.
When it comes to predicting a winner in both of these match-ups, its hard to tell who is going to step up, and who will crack under the pressure. Many underdogs go into big games with the mindset that once the ball is tipped, the playing field is even.
One thing is a given when it comes to South Carolina, they play some pretty tough defense. Gonzaga will be forced to move the ball around the floor, but will also have to drop back and step up on defense, as they also are in the top five in defensive efficiency. I believe this game will be a low-scoring affair, with the winner being Gonzaga. The ability of the Bulldogs to step up when they need to will trump the skill of the Gamecocks defense.
For the other side of the bracket, UNC will attempt to make another run at the championship, this time having to eurostep the Oregon Ducks en-route to their sixth NCAA championship. I do believe that scenario will end up being the case too, due to the fact that UNC has been tested with not only their regular season schedule, but also their ability to perform in the tournament.
Make sure to tune in to the CBS networks for everything you need to know about the NCAA tournament. If these games go anything like the rest of the tournament, buckle up, its going to be a bumpy ride.