2016 Men’s Final Four
Where: NRG Stadium – Houston, TX
When: Saturday, April 2nd
Tip-off: Approx. 6:09 p.m. ET on TBS (second game @ approx. 8:49 p.m. ET)
GAME 1 – VILLANOVA WILDCATS vs OKLAHOMA SOONERS
33-5 (16-2 Big East)
Final Four appearances: 5th (first since 2009)
Tournament appearances: 36th (fourth straight)
29-7 (12-6 Big XII)
Final Four appearances: 5th (first since 2002)
Tournament appearances: 30th (fourth straight)
Villanova and Oklahoma have been two of the more impressive teams in the NCAA Tournament and in different ways.
The former rolled through their first three opponents, winning by an average of 24 points. Then they proceeded to stifle the overall No. 1 seeded Kansas Jayhawks, surrendering just 59 points in a hard-fought 40 minutes to clinch a spot in the Final Four. They have overcome one big hurdle in the eyes of many by making it back to the Final Four. In recent years, they have been regarded as one of the most successful teams in college basketball in terms of racking up wins but can never take that extra step. Now, ‘Cats coach Jay Wright has his club clicking after two very strong weekends.
Oklahoma won their first-round game over CSU-Bakersfield by double-digits but it was closer than the score would indicate, then followed it up by escaping from VCU and cashing in on some mistakes made by the Rams late in the game. The Sooners quickly answered any critics from the first weekend with arguably the best performances in the second weekend, beating (3) Texas A&M and (1) Oregon by 14 and 12 points respectively, and they really weren’t even that close. They’re a deep and prolific bunch, but they are getting by right now thanks to Buddy Hield, which makes them an even scarier club.
Hield has accounted for better than 36 percent of his team’s points in their first four tournament games. Oklahoma has already shown that can work, but they will need more balance against a Villanova defense that has yet to give up 70 points in any game this tournament. ‘Nova also has a starting five that can all get into double-figures with ease on any given night, and Oklahoma’s defense can be suspect at times.
For Oklahoma, can guys like Jordan Woodard and Isaiah Cousins step up and take the pressure off of Hield? And for Villanova, can they slow down Hield while still getting consistent contributions from players like Ryan Arcidiacano and Josh Hart?
Villanova – 79
Oklahoma – 70
GAME 2 – NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS vs SYRACUSE ORANGE
32-6 (14-4 ACC)
Final Four appearances: 19th (first since 2009)
Tournament appearances: 47th (sixth consecutive)
23-13 (9-9 ACC)
Final Four appearances: 6th (second in four years)
Tournament appearances: 38th (2005-06 & 2011-12 vacated appearances included)
One team was a heavy favorite to win the championship going back to the beginning of the tournament, the other was thought to be a lock for some other form of postseason play.
North Carolina fits the former here. They are one of six teams to have been ranked AP No. 1 in the regular season at some point in 2015-16 and were perceived by many as one of the teams with the best chances to cut down then nets. They have all the components of a prototypical championship team – a Hall of Fame coach in Roy Williams, depth at the guard position that can both facilitate and score in Marcus Paige and Joel Berry II, and some NBA-caliber size down load that can control the rebounding game and kick-start the transition game, led by All-American Brice Johnson and complemented by Kennedy Meeks, Justin Jackson, and Isaiah Hicks.
If one were to read just the name ‘Syracuse’ when looking at Final Four participants, not many people would be surprised to see them in contention, only until one saw a No. 10 next to their name and the bracket they came out of and then think, “How the hell did they get here?” Well, they are here and they plan to continue messing things up. Sure, they escaped a break by avoiding another tournament-favorite in Michigan State, but that isn’t their fault. They won their first two games by an average of 22 points, rallied back to down (11) Gonzaga and rallied back even more to stun top-seeded Virginia in the regional championship…..what are they doing here?
North Carolina’s Achilles’ Heel (pun intended) is their three-point shooting, that is as clear as day. However, the worst three-point shooting team in the ACC this season knocked down 21 of 49 (42.8 percent) attempts from downtown in wins over (5) Indiana and (6) Notre Dame. The lengthy Syracuse zone defense essentially forces teams to make shots from outside, the Orange have given up a little more than 38 percent of threes in the tournament thus far.
North Carolina is big and talented enough to exploit a tough ‘Cuse D more successfully than most other teams, and if they are hitting shots from outside, they could coast into the championship game. Syracuse meanwhile has won their four games all in different fashion. Capitalizing on mistakes vs. Gonzaga, full-court pressing Virginia, getting inside and getting opposing big men in foul trouble, which will be key against the trees of UNC.
North Carolina – 81
Syracuse – 73