As March Madness comes to a close, the quest for a National Championship draws near. It’s that time of year again, the Saturday of the Final Four. Tonight, we have two games on the slate. The stage is Phoenix, Arizona with both Final Four games taking place today, April 1, 2017, and the National Championship on Monday, April 3, 2017. At 6:09pm EST the #1 seed Gonzaga Bulldogs take on the #7 seed Gamecocks of South Carolina. After that, at 8:49pm EST another #1 seed, the North Carolina Tarheels are facing the #3 seed Oregon Ducks.
This was a strange tournament, no perfect brackets remain. The first round was lacking the typical upsets seen this time of year, but even so a couple unexpected teams have reached this great stage. North Carolina was ranked #1 overall heading into the season, so not a huge surprise to many to see them vying for the title at the end of the year. Gonzaga lost only one game this season and is led by the Coach of the year Mark Few. Although this is the schools first birth in the Final Four, they came into the tournament a #1 seed and 34.6% of bracket entries picked them to reach this game (per ESPN). The Ducks of Oregon came into this tournament with low expectations from media pundits; they had just lost to Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament, and senior big man and leader Chris Boucher had been lost for the season with a knee injury. In the previous round they upset the Kansas Jayhawks, who according to ESPN, 11.1% of brackets had winning the National Championship. The relative “Cinderella” of this tournament is the University of South Carolina. After losing 10 games in the regular season, they came into this tournament as a #7 seed. They needed to knock off some big teams just to reach this game, and they have done that behind the spectacular play of senior guard Sindarius Thornwell. Only 657 bracket entries out of 18,797,085 chose the correct four teams in the Final Four (0.003%) per NBC Sports.
In this blog I will go over the two match ups tonight, give my picks and predictions for the games, and a little preview of what I think the National Championship will look like. As a college basketball junkie I think were in for a great couple of games today with another to follow on Monday. I hope your bracket remains relatively intact, and you enjoy my blog.
No.1 Gonzaga vs No.7 South Carolina
6:09 pm ET CBS
Gonzaga (36-1): The Bulldogs have a serious size advantage which led them to only one loss in the regular season, and this team is rolling. In the Elite 8, they beat a solid Xavier team by 24. Playing in a non power 5 conference Gonzaga’s record is sometimes questioned, but led by seniors like G Nigel Williams-Goss and C Prezmek Karnowski this could be the best team in the nation. They are known more for their defense then thier outside shooting, but in its previous matchup the Dawgs hit 12 3’s. If they can knock down shots and play the Gamecocks tough inside, this will be a tough team to beat.
South Carolina (26-10): This South Carolina team had a sneaky good regular season. Their best player Thornwell missed a large chunk of the season, and in his absence they lost 7 games. Now with how hot they have gotten in the tournament, they are turning some heads. Coach Frank Martin is an intense defense first guy, and that shows out on the floor. They have taken down some big teams to get here and this will be the biggest game in school history. Lets see if Sidarius Thornwell and Frank Martin can lead this talented team to the school’s first ever National Championship game.
Prediction: Look for a low scoring game, these teams are known for defense and Gonzaga is loaded on the interior. South Carolina will need Thornwell to step up and have a game like he’s had in the previous rounds (averaging over 25ppg in the tournament) and play the stifling defense like they did against Florida and Baylor. Gonzaga getting hot from deep would be trouble for the Gamecocks, so they need to keep that from happening and play tough defense on the perimeter. Another thing to watch is that if this game is close coming down to the buzzer, South Carolina is a poor free throw shooting team. Gonzaga is a 6.5 point favorite tonight, I think they win and cover that number. Final Score: Gonzaga 79 – South Carolina 70
No. 1 North Carolina vs No. 3 Oregon
8:49 pm ET approximate CBS
North Carolina (31-7): UNC reached the National Championship last year and lost on a heart breaking buzzer beater to Villanova’s Kris Jenkins. The team returns a few key players who are looking to make people forget that. Led by sharpshooting Justin Jackson and senior point guard Joel Berry III. They are also loaded in the front court with big men who can score and crash the boards. This is a team full of athletes who can score the ball with will, it’ll be interesting to see if Oregon can match up.
Oregon (33-5): This Ducks team has been highly ranked all year long and has some veteran leadership that makes them scary in the postseason. Led by F Dillon Brooks play making and G Tyler Dorsey’s shooting, this team has made the Final Four. Although they lost starting big man Chris Boucher for the year, Jordan Bell has made some incredible plays, rebounding the ball late in games. Can the magic stay alive against perennial power house UNC? We’ll find out tonight.
Prediction: This game could end up being the high scoring of the two on Saturday, but to stay in it Oregon will need to hit a lot of shots. While they have Jordan Bell who’s playing spectacular basketball, North Carolina’s big men will make it tough rebounding and scoring inside. The smart pick would be North Carolina who is a 4.5 point favorite at this moment, and I seem to be talking myself into them. I just believe there is something to this Oregon team and it’s senior leader, Dillon Brooks. I’m Taking Oregon in a nail biter as UNC will not go down easy. Final Score: Oregon 85 – North Carolina 84
That makes my tentative National Championship game heavy Northwest as the Gonzaga Bulldogs of Washington State take on the Oregon Ducks. In my humble opinion this is just the Zag’s year. They have tons of play makers and size, I think they are cutting down the nets come Monday night. Also that’s a little biased, I like Coach Mark Few and have a lot of fun staying up late watching Gonzaga games that tip off at Midnight EST. Also, disclaimer, I could be totally wrong. My bracket was eliminated in the second round of the tournament because I thought Villanova would repeat. No need to put a ton of weight in my picks. Might end up seeing a North Carolina vs. South Carolina match up in the National Championship. That would be an interesting story.