NCAA Final Four Preview: Which Team Will Get a Shining Moment?
Once upon a time, 68 teams had hopes of a national title. Only Gonzaga, South Carolina, North Carolina and Oregon remain. Here’s a preview of this Saturday’s NCAA men’s basketball national semifinals in Arizona:
Saturday, April 1
(7) South Carolina vs. (1) Gonzaga
University of Phoenix Stadium; Glendale, Ariz. | 6:09 p.m. on CBS
How They Got Here: The only true Cinderella team in this year’s Final Four, the East Region champion South Carolina Gamecocks (26–10) have used physical play and an intense defense to beat Marquette (93–73), Duke (88–81), Baylor (70–50) and Florida (77–70). Regional MVP Sindarius Thornwell has arguably been the tournament’s best player, averaging 25.7 points per game for a team that finished just fourth in the SEC.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs (36–1) have had a near-perfect year, with a 79–71 loss to Brigham Young in February the only blemish on their record. After winning the West Coast Conference title, coach Mark Few’s disciplined team has defeated South Dakota State (66-46), Northwestern (79–73), West Virginia (61–58) and Xavier (83–59) to reach the Final Four.
History: Both South Carolina and Gonzaga are making their first trip to the Final Four.
Expect a War in the Paint: Gamecocks head coach Frank Martin has built this team to attack on both ends of the court. South Carolina will have to chop down Gonzaga’s tall frontcourt of Przemek Karnowski, Zach Collins and Johnathan Williams III and punish All-American guard Nigel Williams-Goss when he dares to drive the lane. If Gonzaga can win the rebounding battle, contain Thornwell and score consistently in the paint, this game is theirs. If the Gamecocks can rebound and defend well, and convert turnovers into points on the break, they’ll keep dancing in the desert.
(3) Oregon vs. (1) North Carolina
University of Phoenix Stadium; Glendale, Ariz. | 8:49 p.m. on CBS
How They Got Here: The Midwest Region champion Oregon Ducks (33–5) have had the winningest season in program history, claiming the Pac-12 regular-season title before losing to Arizona in the conference tournament. Led by dynamic scorers Tyler Dorsey and Dillon Brooks, third-seeded Oregon reached the Final Four by beating Iona (93–77), Rhode Island (75–72), Michigan (69–68) and Kansas (74–60). Coach Dana Altman’s team has somehow gotten stronger despite the loss of shot-blocker Chris Boucher in early March.
The top-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels (31–7) won the ACC regular-season title before losing to rival Duke in the conference tournament. UNC rebounded, quite literally, to march through the South Region and into the Final Four with wins over Texas Southern (103–64), Arkansas (72–65), Butler (92–80) and Kentucky (75–73). Coach Roy Williams has the Final Four’s most talented team, one that could give him his third national title.
History: Oregon is making its first Final Four appearance since 1939, when the Ducks won the first-ever NCAA tournament. North Carolina is making its record 20th Final Four appearance and second in a row. The Tar Heels lost last season’s national-title game to Villanova. They seek their sixth national championship, and first since 2009.
Expect Lots of Scoring: Both teams have plenty of offensive talent and love to play up-tempo. UNC will look for Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson to trigger their offense and tire out Dorsey and Brooks. The Tar Heels Theo Pinson will attempt to lock down Dorsey. Without Boucher, Oregon is at a disadvantage against the nation’s best offensive rebounding team. Jordan Bell will have to come up big on the glass to help the Ducks stay close.