Fan’s Guide To The Final Four
Four teams remain standing in March Madness: Villanova, Oklahoma, North Carolina...and Syracuse. Who are you rooting for?
At this point in the season, the odds are your team is out of the dance. In a year where Michigan State lost to #15 seed Middle Tennessee State, nobody was safe. With three games of college basketball left to watch, you might as well have a horse in the race. The storylines are diverse enough to give you options, so choose wisely.
The top seeded team left (North Carolina) is running like a thoroughbred, and the veteran leadership is abundant. If you want to root for the team with the best individual player, go no further than the Oklahoma Sooners and guard/flamethrower Buddy Hield. Underdogs? How about a #10 seed (Syracuse) and a #2 seed that is still somehow going under the radar (Villanova)? Even if you're not a gambler, it's easy to buy in to the drama.
Let's start with the ACC Tournament Championship...I mean the right side of the bracket.
North Carolina Tar Heels: Your Easiest Bet
Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson are about to go make a lot of money in the NBA, but they have a chance to give Roy Williams and the UNC Tar Heels another NCAA Championship before they go.
The Tar Heels are the clear favorite left to win the tournament. They outscored opponents by an average of 16 points on their way to the Final Four, and their lowest margin of victory was their 88-74 win over Notre Dame in the Elite Eight. Their lowest margin of victory also happened to be the largest margin of victory in the Elite Eight as well. Get the picture?
Brice Johnson is a monster on the block. He's a double-double machine, and he almost demands a double team in the post right now. On top of that, he's an outstanding shotblocker and a vacuum on the glas.s The problem is, if you worry about Johnson, Paige and the other guards will light you up from the outside.
On top of senior leadership, the Tar Heels have tempo. They're averaging 89 points per game in the tournament, by far the most of any team remaining. If they get the chance to run out in transition, Syracuse is toast.
If you want one more reason to root for UNC, their head coach, Roy Williams, was starting to catch heat for not getting a championship in recent years. At the age of 65, the North Carolina born and raised man would love to sip some sweet tea on the porch and shoo the haters off his lawn with another trophy.
Here's the problem, they're playing against a team that has absolutely nothing to lose. Honestly, they're lucky to even be here.
Syracuse Orange: How the Hell...?
Are we all sure that Syracuse won't be playing North Carolina on April Fool's Day?
Jim Boeheim and the Orange were fortunate to even be in the tournament, now they're in the Final Four? What the..how the...? It feels like a magic trick.
One of the prouder programs in the country only won 19 games this season and finished 10th in the ACC, but they squirted into the dance with a #10 seed. They crushed Dayton, then they were lucky enough to face Middle Tennessee State instead of Michigan State. No disrespect to MTSU, but any time you can get past Tom Izzo without having to see him, you thank your lucky stars.
I hesitate to use the word "luck" with Syracuse. It discredits their accomplishments. No matter how you get there, reaching the Final Four is incredibly hard to do. Boeheim and his team made the best of their opportunity, so don't be an irrational hater just because it's the trend. Be smarter, and also consider that Boeheim can put a hefty chip on their shoulder with all the doubt.
They came back from a 16 point deficit against a #1 seed (Virginia) to advance past the Elite Eight, so the Tar Heels know not to take them lightly. Even though UNC got the better of them both times this season, any coach will tell you beating any team three times in a row is a tough task.
On top of being the clear underdog, they have one of the more likable guys left in Trevor Cooney. He's a redshirt senior for the Orange, who came back as a graduate student to lead this team to a run nobody saw coming. He's scrappy too, just like an underdog should be.
Now that we're done with the right side of the bracket (game scheduled for 7:50 tipoff on CBS), it's time to go to the Buddy Hield Show...I mean the left side.
Oklahoma Sooners: The Buddy Hield Show
Big players make big plays in big games. It's been said a hundred times in every sport, and it applies to Buddy Hield more than anybody else in college basketball.
Every time the Oklahoma Sooners needed an emotional charge or a game winning shot, they knew who to call on in 2016. Hield worked his way up the NBA Draft charts from a mid to late first rounder all the way into the lottery with his clutch shot taking and making, and his 37 points against Oregon secured the Sooners' spot in Houston for the Final Four.
The senior from the Bahamas is almost impossible to stop when he gets hot. He can nail shots from about 30 feet, even with defenders in his face, and his determination to get to the basket often leads to easy points on the free throw line as well.
I'll admit, I'm a Buddy Hield fan. The thing is, it's hard not to be. He plays with a passion that reminds you how much college basketball means to the players and fans, his huge smile flashes often, and he's a damn impressive scorer. He also has a solid supporting cast behind him.
Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler are both season veterans that can provide sparks of their own at any point in the game, and Cousins played a big part in crazy wins over Iowa State, LSU and West Virginia.
Aside from the Tar Heels, the Sooners probably have the hottest hands left in the tournament. Unfortunately for them, they're facing the team that just knocked off the #1 overall seed in the dance.
Villanova Wildcats: Sleeping Giants
Most of the country doesn't know much about Villanova, largely because their games aren't broadcasted on ESPN and therefore not covered as much as other conferences. If you don't buy the extra sports package, you might not have seen the Wildcats play much this year.
The Big East might have had a "down year," but don't tell Kansas that. They don't want to hear it.
Villanova has the second largest margin of victory of the four teams left, only behind the Tar Heels. Like UNC, the Wildcats have senior leadership outside ( PG Ryan Arcidiacano) and inside (C Daniel Ochefu). They will have to figure out a way to slow down Hield for the Sooners, but Jay Wright is a seasoned coach who's been waiting for this chance for a while.
Josh Hart (15.3 ppg) and Kris Jenkins (13.5 ppg) are also capable scorers on the wing, and they could pose a serious threat to the Oklahoma defense if they get caught in a close one.
The Wildcats are the second favorite team left playing, for you gambling fans, so they have the slight edge over Oklahoma. At this point in March though, you should realize predicting the future is pretty much impossible.
Four teams and three games left in the college basketball season...I almost start to get depressed thinking about it. At least we know whoever wins it this season will appreciate the taste of the trophy when they kiss it. All these teams have something to prove.