Beware the madness of March. This would have been Shakespeare’s preponderant warning to all readers if he could be alive to witness the series of furtive upsets and tortuously close games that have characterized this year’s tournament. Brackets have been busted beyond recognition, with the last perfect one finally falling after 40 games, following No. 8 Wisconsin’s thrilling victory over tournament favorite No. 1 Villanova.
So far, the tournament has been – as predicted – shockingly unpredictable. But now we enter the much anticipated Final Four, from which only two teams can advance to the championship. The teams that have made it so far have survived the thrills, chokes, buzzer beaters, and (probably) goaltending calls (no, definitely), and now play the biggest game of their season. Here are my picks for the Final Four.
South Carolina has always had a history of being hard to take down, whether it be basketball or confederate flags. But now, unlike their confederate flag controversy, South Carolina treads in dangerous and unprecedented water. Before the tournament this year, the Gamecocks hadn’t won a single NCAA tournament game since 1973, but have now burst onto the scene with incredible upset victories over No. 2 Duke, No. 3 Baylor, and No. 4 Florida to roughly pave their way to the Final Four. Led by Senior Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina is red-hot entering this matchup, with by far the most determination and hustle of any team in the tournament.
Gonzaga, meanwhile, rode smoothly, and rather lazily, off of their No. 1 seeding to victories over South Dakota State State and Northwestern – although they were altogether unconvincing, only pulling away from SDSU after halftime and beating Northwestern by one point (with a little bit of help). There was, no doubt, worry about their ability to go far during the tournament heading into their matchup against No. 4 West Virginia in the following round, but their ability to handle the Mountaineers press game and high tempo, while holding them to just 58 points, eased the minds of doubters and bracket-holders everywhere. An easy victory over Xavier in the Elite Eight lands them too in unprecedented waters, having never advanced to the Final Four. Their ability to correct their team seemingly on the fly, handle pressure expertly, and, in turn, ramp up the defensive pressure (without goaltending) seriously puts them in contention to win it all. The Gamecocks are a similar team to West Virginia, and, as always, will put up a fight.
Like their game against West Virginia, the Zags will handle the pressure well.
Gonzaga will take this game 68-64.
Oregon impressively beat No. 1 Kansas – one of the few teams that looked stable and consistent in the tournament. At first glance, then, one may be tempted to mark Oregon as clear favorites, but examining their matchups they are markedly exposed. The Ducks struggled against the athletic No. 11 URI in the second round, and they now face a much more athletic team in UNC, who tends to dominate the glass: both points and rebounds. Against Michigan, who plays well down the stretch, they barely pulled out a one-point victory: again, UNC, as evidenced by their victory over No. 2 Kentucky, can play well down the stretch. Their victory against Kansas, then, seems an anomaly. But looking at history, we should have expected it. Every year since 2009 the Jayhawks had been ranked either a 1, 2, or 3 seed. In only one of those years, 2012, did they advance to the Final Four (That’s eight years, folks!). Upon further examination, Oregon slipped into the Final Four – but the buck stops here.
UNC outmatches them in every way, and they are likely to win easily, but maybe not comfortably.
UNC wins this game 75-70.
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