Last-Minute Keys To The Final Four Games: Who Will Win?
Only four teams are left in the 2016 NCAA Tournament: Villanova, Oklahoma, Syracuse and North Carolina. One will prevail as the 2016 NCAA men’s basketball national champion. Here's a last-minute preview of today’s national semifinals:
Villanova Wildcats vs. Oklahoma Sooners
NRG Stadium, Houston; 6:09 p.m. (ET) on TBS
How They Got Here: Both teams have been at or near the top of the national rankings all season. South Regional champion Villanova (33-5) dropped 15th-seed UNC Asheville, 86-56; knocked out seventh-seeded Iowa, 87-68; drubbed No. 3 Miami, 92-69 and edged No. 1-overall seed Kansas 64-59 in the regional final.
Propelled by All-American Buddy Hield’s offensive prowess, Oklahoma (29-7) blew through the West Region with victories over 15th-seed CSU Bakersfield, 82-68; 10th-seeded VCU, 85-81; third-seeded Texas A&M, 77-63, and top-seeded Oregon, 80-68 in the regional final.
History: Villanova is participating in the fifth Final Four in the program’s history. They have one national championship: 1985. Head coach Jay Wright is making his second Final Four appearance with the Wildcats (2009). He has never won a national title.
Oklahoma is playing in the school’s fifth Final Four, and first since 2002. They have never won the national championship. Sooners head coach Lon Kruger is making his second Final Four appearance and his first since taking the Florida Gators to the national semifinals in 1994. He has never won a national title.
These teams have already met this season: a Dec. 7 meeting dominated by Sooners, 78-55, in the Pearl Harbor Invitational at Honolulu. Isaiah Cousins had 19 points in that game, while Hield chipped in 18 to help defeat the Wildcats, who shot just 32 percent from the field.
Much credit to ESPN columnist Eamonn Brennan who hinted at the time that these teams could meet again in Houston. The result will likely be much closer than the first game’s outcome.
How Oklahoma Can Win: The Sooners offense needs to show that it’s more than ‘The Buddy Hield Show.’ Villanova has been excellent defensively throughout the tournament and will likely force other players to beat them. Isaiah Cousins, Jordan Woodard and perhaps even Khadeem Lattin need to contribute. Defensively, Oklahoma must force the Wildcats into poor shot selection. They could benefit if ‘Nova struggles with depth perception in NRG Stadium.
How Villanova Can Win: The Wildcats have reached the Final Four by being a balanced, deep team. They need those players - Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Daniel Ochefu and Ryan Arcidiacono — to show out against Oklahoma. The Sooners offense can run anyone out off the court, so ‘Nova must control the tempo and frustrate the Oklahoma shooters, especially Hield, who has averaged 29.3 points per game during this run.
Point Spread: Villanova -2.5
Syracuse Orange vs. North Carolina Tar Heels
NRG Stadium, Houston; 8:49 p.m. (ET) on TBS
How They Got Here: Midwest Regional champion Syracuse (23-13) became the first 10th-seed to advance to the Final Four by beating seventh-seeded Dayton, 70-51; routing Middle Tennessee State, 75-50; edging 11-seed Gonzaga, 63-60, and shocking top-seeded Virginia, 68-62, in the regional final last Sunday.
A perennial college hoops power, East Regional champ North Carolina (32-6) has not yet been tested in this tournament. The top-seeded Tar Heels dropped 16th-seed Florida Gulf-Coast, 83-67; drubbed ninth-seeded Providence, 85-66; crushed fifth-seed Indiana, 101-86, and ran past sixth-seeded Notre Dame, 88-74, in the regional final.
History: Syracuse is playing in its sixth Final Four in the program’s long history, and first since 2013. Jim Boeheim is completing his 40th year on the ‘Cuse bench. He has guided the Orange to five Final Fours and their only national title in 2003.
North Carolina is playing in its NCAA-record 19th Final Four. The Tar Heels have won five national titles, including one during their last appearance in 2009. Head coach Roy Williams is in the Final Four for the eighth time, and fourth with North Carolina. He has guided teams to two national titles: 2005 and 2009.
Both of these teams play in the hyper-talented Atlantic Coast Conference. They played twice this season: an 84-73 North Carolina win in the Orange Dome in Boeheim's first game back from a nine-game suspension for NCAA violations, and a 75-70 Heels’ win at the Dean Dome on Feb. 29. Both games were very close. Saturday’s contest could be closer.
How Syracuse Can Win: The Orange must tighten its 2-3 zone defense and dare the North Carolina guards to beat them from the perimeter. Syracuse also needs Tyler Lydon and Tyler Roberson to crash the boards and play tough interior defense. Guards Malachi Richardson and Michael Gbinije must be an offensive force that pushes the Tar Heels to get back on defense. Syracuse must contest every pass into the post.
How North Carolina Can Win: The Tar Heels need Marcus Paige and Joel Berry to shoot over the zone and open up the passing lanes. While Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield has gotten more press recently, North Carolina forward Brice Johnson has been even more unstoppable this postseason. Carolina’s guards need to get him the ball in the middle of the ‘Cuse 2-3 zone and let him wreak havoc — which could include kicking the ball back out to Paige and Berry. The Tar Heels also need Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks to rebound at both ends of the floor to keep the Orange from getting second shots and controlling tempo.
Point Spread: North Carolina -9.5