What a year it has been in college basketball. The month of April will begin with much excitement and anticipation surrounding it. The next two games will be taking place on April 1, as #7 South Carolina takes on #1 Gonzaga at 6:09 p.m. followed by the 8:49 p.m. game between #3 Oregon and #1 North Carolina. Here’s a look at this year’s Final Four.
South Carolina vs. Gonzaga
Where did all the pre-Tournament criticism go about Gonzaga not being able to keep up with power conference teams and weren’t deserving of a #1 seed in this year’s tournament? The Bulldogs have showed themselves worthy as one of the elite and most consistent programs in the country led by head coach Mark Few. Gonzaga has proven winners on their squad, headlined by 5th year senior, 7’1″ Przemek Karnowski, who holds the most wins by any individual player in college basketball.
Pair him with versatile Missouri transfer Johnathan Williams at the 4 and skilled, 7’0″ McDonald’s All-American Zach Collins off the bench and this is an NBA-caliber front court. This team is far from one dimensional, however. Bleacher Report All-American point guard and WCC player of the year Nigel Williams-Goss leads the Zag’s attack. Rising sophomore Josh Perkins and another 5th year senior, transfer Jordan Mathews, rounds out the starting five.
Silas Melson has been a key component off the bench as of late, contributing in bunches while Killian Tillie out of France will continue to be a part of the Zags frontcourt rotation. This team boasts perimeter shooting, an elite defense, unreal size, offensive balance and plenty of experience and should make for a tough out anywhere in the tournament.
The Gamecocks on the other hand lack the star power and elite size that Gonzaga possesses, but they do have a lot of momentum coming into this matchup. The hottest team in the nation brings defensive tenacity, hustle and an all-SEC first-teamer to every game. Senior Sindarius Thornwell has long been a handful on the offensive end but has been overlooked due to the irrelevance of South Carolina basketball over his career. He is now the focal point of a Final Four team. He’s not alone, however, as his back court mates are also very solid.
Duane Notice is a terrific outside shooter from the wing while former McDonald’s All-American P.J. Dozier can get it done from all over the court, most of the time acting as the team’s point guard despite being listed at 6’6″. Here’s where it gets tricky and potentially fatal for South Carolina as their forwards are still a big question mark. Outside of Chris Silva, the Gamecocks really struggle finding consistency from any of their bigs. They play within themselves, however, and compete as a team. It seems like someone new steps up every game and plays a key role for the Gamecocks that no one expects to, and adds to the true feel of thrill and shock that college basketball is all about. Overall, South Carolina is performing at an all time high right now and play the kind of frenetic defense that teams simply can’t prepare for and struggle mightily against.
Oregon vs. North Carolina
All year, Oregon looked as if they were poised for a run at the national championship. That was before a season ending injury to their starting center and leading shot blocker Chris Boucher deep in the Pac-12 tournament sidelined him the rest of the way. Then the doubts began to emerge. Oregon still had plenty of pieces to make a run and did just that though, making their first Final Four appearance since 1939. Jordan Bell stepped up big time and replaced Boucher while star forward Dillon Brooks shifted over to the 4 spot. The Ducks’ small-ball lineup has proved to be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Perhaps the biggest reason the Ducks are where they are is because of sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey, who has come up clutch in big moments down the stretch and has been simply putting on a show.
Senior point guard Dylan Ennis brings experience along with a knack for scoring and the ability to facilitate. Both Payton Pritchard and Casey Benson have been playing increasingly valuable minutes due to the Boucher injury and will continue to get consistent playing time as the Ducks keep utilizing smaller lineups. Freshman Keith Smith also has seen the court since Boucher went down and will look to make more of an impact. With the way Oregon has torn teams up from the perimeter due to their adjusted lineup and Dorsey having been on fire, the Ducks don’t have their mind set on going home any time soon.
North Carolina brings everything you could possibly want from a national championship contender to the table- experience. Four key players return from their national championship appearance last year. The Tar Heels have size, continuity, chemistry, scoring ability, and defensive consistency. They are led by junior small forward Justin Jackson and point guard Joel Berry. Jackson is able to elevate over defenders to get his shot off with his long 6’8″ frame and an NBA ready jump shot that has really blossomed this season. Berry is exactly what you want in a point guard as he brings a coach like presence to the floor along with his leadership, outstanding court vision and the ability to also take over games scoring the ball as well.
Although those two will be getting the majority of the attention, the Tar Heels quietly have one of the best supporting casts in the country. Kennedy Meeks and Isiah Hicks cause havoc for opponents on the glass. Meeks is able to highlight his mobility that is rarely seen with players his size (260 lbs) to dominate the boards while Hicks is more of an athlete who gets by with his energy and savvy. Tony Bradley, a 5-star freshman, also is capable of running the floor and taking over games from the post. However, the x-factor in the frontcourt throughout the entire tournament has been sophomore Luke Maye. Although undersized at 6’7″ and lacking elite athleticism, Maye brings a great perimeter jump shot and very useful floor stretching abilities off the bench, showcased by his game winning shot vs. Kentucky in the Elite Eight. Nate Britt provides depth and a veteran’s mentality while Theo Pinson adds athleticism. The Tar Heels are as good of a team as there is in college basketball and are a scary matchup.