2017 Final Four Preview & Predictions
This year’s Final Four teams couldn’t be more unique, setting up two National Semi-Final match-ups in Phoenix that no one saw coming.
Gonzaga was the number one seed in the West that everyone seemed to doubt. They were finally able to reach their first Final Four with coach Mark Few after skating by West Virginia in the Sweet Sixteen, then dominating Xavier in the Elite Eight.
North Carolina is the only blue blood of the group. They’ve had the easiest road to the Final Four of any team and only faced one real scare against Kentucky in their Elite Eight match-up. Roy Williams’ crew has probably the most talent and depth of any of the four teams left and they are out to avenge last season’s heartbreaking national title game loss to Villanova
Then there’s Oregon and South Carolina, the two teams that most people didn’t pI true getting to Phoenix and have probably busted more brackets than not this tournament season. Oregons team has been together for a couple of years now. They’ve been close to getting over that proverbial Final Four hump in the past but finally achieved it when Jordan Bell and Tyler Dorsey went bonkers on Kansas in the Elite Eight.
South Carolina is the true Cinderella story of this year’s tournament. Nobody, I mean nobody, outside of Frank Martin and everyone in that locker room thought the Gamecocks would get here. Behind Sindarius Thornwell’s incredible play this tournament, South Carolina finds themselves in their program’s first ever Final Four and two wins away from a National Championship.
The Match-Up: Gonzaga vs. South Carolina – Tipoff 4:09 PM MT
When you hear people talk about South Carolina basketball, more often than not they bring up Frank Martin’s intensity and their defensive play. But what’s gotten South Carolina to Phoenix is their improved offensive play, highlighted by a 65 point second half outburst against Duke. The Gamecocks are averaging 82.0 points per game and shooting a whopping 48 percent from the field in four games this NCAA tournament. They’re also getting to the charity stripe a lot, averaging 26 free throw attempts per game. South Carolina is scoring more offensively, which is great, but they are killing teams by being more efficient on that end and getting to the free throw line at a higher rate. The main driving force to South Carolina’s run in March is undoubtedly the play of senior guard Sindarius Thornwell. Thornwell has been arguably the best player in the tourney this year, averaging 25.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.0 block per game on 50 percent shooting from the field, 42 percent shooting from beyond the arc and 82 percent shooting from the charity stripe. He’s going to need to keep up this level of play and his March heroics if South Carolina has any chance of beating the Zags on Saturday night.
In my opinion, this is a really difficult stylistic match-up for South Carolina. The Gamecocks are a very good defensive team. They’re physical, athletic, long, and fit the personality of their head coach probably better than any of the four remaining teams. However, I’d argue that the Zags are a better defensive team and even go as far as to say that they’re better at doing what the Gamecocks pride themselves on: defending in the halfcourt. Gonzaga is going to outmuscle South Carolina; bully the bully if you will. I’m not sure how South Carolina is going to respond to playing a team that can not only match their defensive intensity, but also can just bull their way inside on them like Gonzaga is going to do with Karnowski and Williams. South Carolina could try to double the post, when the Zags look to dump it inside to Karnowski. But, his ability to pass out of the low block and double teams could be real troublesome. The Gamecocks best bet to nullify Gonzaga’s bigs is probably going to be to deny position by fronting and forcing tough entry passes to be made by Perkins or Williams-Goss. However, I’m not sure South Carolina has the strength, size, or depth to pull that off with much success.
I expect Gonzaga to trap Sindarius Thornwell frequently to get the ball out of his hands and force guys like PJ Dozier, Maik Kotsar, Chris Silva and Duane Notice to beat them which should swing the odds even more in their favor. The main issue for South Carolina here is the lack of size and more so depth they have in the frontcourt, say Silva and Kotsar get into foul trouble then who does Frank Martin turn to on his bench to try and contain Karnowski and Williams? On top of that the Zags have Zach Collins and Killian Tillie coming off the bench, two freshman bigs that should have a field day against the Gamecocks second unit or if Karnowski or Williams gets in early foul trouble. Gonzaga should be able to dominate this game inside from bell to bell and if South Carolina does double Przemek Karnowski, he will make them pay with passes out to Jordan Matthews, Josh Perkins, Nigel Williams-Goss or Silas Melson who all should be open on the perimeter (not to mention all four shoot over 35 percent from three).
Shooting is the last factor that I think will heavily play into Gonzaga’s hands, South Carolina does not shoot the ball well. They’ve definitely improved their efficiency offensively during the tourney as pointed out earlier, but this is a Gamecocks team who only shot 34 percent as a team from beyond the arc this season and those numbers haven’t improved much during their Final Four run. The Zags dominate inside, control the pace of the game, outplay South Carolina in the halfcourt on both ends, forces them to shoot a ton of three’s and ultimately I think the clock strikes midnight on the Gamecocks’ cinderella run.
Final Prediction: Gonzaga 72, South Carolina 61
The Match-Up: North Carolina vs. Oregon – Tipoff 6:49 PM MT
Boy is this one going to be fireworks, of the two Final Four games I’d say I’m much more excited for this match-up. North Carolina pretty much coasted to get here outside of their epic clash with Kentucky in the Elite Eight. Oregon on the other hand has got to Phoenix navigating a much tougher road, beating both Rhode Island and Michigan by one point before dominating a Kansas team that looked phenomenal by fourteen in the Elite Eight. Much like South Carolina with Gonzaga, I think Oregon is probably going to have a very tough time with North Carolina’s size and depth in the frontcourt. North Carolina was the best rebounding team in college basketball this season and haven’t let up in the tournament, the Tar Heels outrebounded Kentucky, Arkansas and Butler by a whopping margin of 127-92. This doesn’t bold well for an Oregon team that ranked 71st in total rebounds this season, but the Ducks have shown an improved urgency their out rebounding Kansas, Michigan, Rhode Island and Iona during the NCAA tournament. I think it’s going to be a heck of a task to ask Jordan Bell, Dillon Brooks and Kavell Bigby-Williams to out rebound Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Luke Maye and Tony Bradley.
Both these team’s have their own x-factors of sorts in Luke Maye and “Mr March” Tyler Dorsey. Maye a sophomore who was averaging 5.8 points and 4.0 rebounds per game during the regular season, has turned into a national darling overnight after hitting the game winning shot against Kentucky in the Elite Eight. He’s averaging 12.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game while shooting 54 percent from the field and 45 percent from the three point line during the Tar Heels tournament run. If Maye puts up a similar performance to the ones he’s had against Kentucky and Butler, Oregon might have little chance to pull off the upset. Oregon’s Tyler Dorsey has also taken his game to another level, for my money he’s been the best player during this year’s NCAA tournament of any team. Dorsey’s hit clutch shots against Michigan and Rhode Island, he’s been unstoppable from every level pretty much. Dorsey’s done it all from a offensive standpoint for Oregon during their run to the Final Four, shooting and attacking off the dribble, he’s had some beautiful finishes at the rim while also always producing something out of high pick and rolls mainly with Brooks. He’s averaging 24.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game during the NCAA tournament while shooting a ridiculous 66 percent from the field and 65 percent from beyond the arc. Dorsey has the chance to explode against North Carolina and blow the game wide open for Oregon, given the fact that Joel Berry II will be playing on two gimpy ankles.
This games real tricky for me, I think North Carolina is the most talented, experienced and deep team of the four that are left. They can legitimately play 8-9 guys, they defend and rebound extremely well, have a ton of size and one hell of a wing scorer in Justin Jackson. This is also not to mention the fact that Roy Williams has coached 250 minutes worth of Final Four basketball while Dana Altman has coached 0. Revenge will be heavy on this North Carolina team’s mind, thanks to Kris Jenkins shot one year ago in the National Title Game. Everything points in the Tar Heels favor, they have more depth, size and experience than the Ducks, plus they rebound and defend at a much higher level. It really concerns me that without Chris Boucher and outside of Jordan Bell, Oregon doesn’t have much of an answer for Meeks, Hicks, Maye and Bradley. Then you add in the fact that if Dorsey doesn’t continue to be Mr March and Dillon Brooks gets in early foul trouble, Oregon could get into deep waters early against North Carolina. However, I like the Ducks in the upset here because I think they outshoot North Carolina significantly from the three-point line and speeds up the Tar Heels enough offensively, that it limits the touches and production of Meeks and Hicks. Dillon Brooks could have a big game as well, North Carolina struggled in the past defending talented, big wings who can score (insert Jayson Tatum and OG Anunoby here). Also, Dana Altman could look to exploit the high picked and roll of Dorsey/Brooks due to Oregon’s success with it. Bottom line, I see Dorsey continuing his insane shooting, Brooks scoring at will on Jackson and even potentially getting him into foul trouble early. Jordan Bell should protect the rim enough to limit North Carolina’s opportunities in the paint, while guys like Payton Pritchard, Dylan Ennis and Casey Benson hit timely three’s and ultimately the Ducks pulling off the win in Phoenix.
Final Prediction: Oregon 81, North Carolina 77