2016 Final Four: Preview and Predictions
The 2015-16 college basketball season is dangerously close to coming to an end. Only 4 teams remain standing in the emotional roller coaster that is “March Madness,” and as usual, the NCAA tournament has provided fans with plenty of upsets and excitement leading up to this year’s Final Four. The final matchups this season will be examined in this article and I will give a complete breakdown of both Final Four games and the National Championship, and also provide my personal predictions as for each game.
GAME #1: Villanova vs. Oklahoma
When: April 2 @ 6:09 PM
This matchup between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Villanova Wildcats has the potential to be one of the best games in this year’s tournament. Villanova is one of college basketball’s pleasant surprises. Jay Wright’s team has been firing on all cylinders near the end of the year winning 10 of their last 11 regular season games. The Wildcats finished atop the Big East standings with a strong 33-5 record heading into the conference tournament. They were knocked off by a scorching Seton Hall team in the Big East championship game. The loss to Seton Hall cost the team a No. 1 seed which gave them role of a scary No. 2 seed that no one would want to play in the tournament. Villanova also may have had the toughest four game path to the Final Four.
W 86-56 vs. #15 UNC Ashville
W 87-68 vs. #7 Iowa
W 92-69 vs. #3 Miami
W 64-59 vs. #1 Kansas
The Wildcats have had no trouble in the scoring department as of late. This high powered offense in combination with stingy play on the defensive side of the ball has led to this miraculous run in the tournament. After taking care of business in the first round, Villanova managed to outscore two very good offensive teams on their way to the Elite Eight. The No. 2 seeded Wildcats were then victorious against the number one team in the nation, the Kansas Jayhawks. Villanova slowed the game down and used their defense to dictate the outcome over the Jayhawks. They held Kansas to 59 points, which was the Jayhawks lowest output all season. Villanova needs that elite defensive presence to return if it plans on beating college basketball’s most prolific scorer, Buddy Hield. The Wildcats lost to the Sooners earlier in the year 78-55. Their defense was good enough to limit Buddy to six for 17 from the floor, while giving them plenty of opportunities on the offensive side of the court. Unfortunately, Villanova was not able to capitalize that night offensively. If Coach Wright gets his squad playing well on both sides of the ball come Saturday, the Wildcats have a very good chance of advancing and competing for the National Championship.
Buddy Hield has been on a mission all year long and has positioned his team only two games away from the greatest achievement in college basketball: the National Championship. Hield’s ability to score the ball has carried this Oklahoma team all season long. The Sooners finished 3rd in the Big 12 this season with a 29-7 record. An extremely tough Big 12 conference has tested the Sooners all year long and has properly prepared them for a run at the National Championship. Like Villanova, the Sooners also have managed to knock off a No. 1 seed on their journey to the Final Four. Here’s a look at how Oklahoma got to Houston.
W 82-68 vs #15 CSU Bakersfield
W 85-81 vs #10 VCU
W 77-63 vs #3 Texas A&M
W 80-68 vs #1 Oregon
The Sooners must continue scoring at their usual high rate in order to defeat the Wildcats. Buddy Hield has been on an absolute tear through the first part of this tournament. In the first three games, he posted point totals of 27, 36, and 17 respectively. In the Elite Eight matchup against Oregon, Buddy dropped 37 points on 13 of 20 from the field and an outrageous eight for 13 (61.5%) from behind the arc. Hield’s extraordinary play has lead the Sooners thus far, but let’s not overlook how consistent the rest of this team has been in the big dance. As a team, Oklahoma is shooting 48.5% from the field and has shot better than all four of its opponents in this tournament. The Sooners are not a very deep team, but don’t expect fatigue to be an issue as the Sooners have dealt with a short bench all season, and will have had six days off since their last game. Oklahoma will need to go harder on the boards in order to give themselves a better chance of ensuring victory. The Sooners’ tournament rebounding margin has been almost even; they have grabbed just one more board than their opponents (147-146). If the Sooners shoot poorly and Villanova dominates the glass, it could spell troubles for Lon Kruger’s squad.
Prediction: Oklahoma Sooners
In what should be one of the best games of the tournament, the Oklahoma Sooners are going to move on to the National Championship after defeating the Villanova Wildcats. This game could go either way since both teams are playing so well and are so evenly matched. This means the game could be easily decided by which team happens to shoot better that night. Unfortunately the game could also be decided by the way the game will be officiated. The officials have been whistle happy throughout this tournament and because of that, many games were altered.
**If you’d like a more thorough explanation of what I mean when I’m talking about the officiating this tournament and how they’ve altered games, I will be releasing an article explaining that. It will feature examples from specific games, as well as how the officiating affected conferences as whole and how each performed. Look for that to be released shortly after the tournament concludes.**
The soft officiating has led to foul trouble for a lot of physical teams. As previously stated, Oklahoma lacks quality depth, so sitting two or three players due to foul trouble would hurt the Sooners drastically more than the deeper Wildcats. This will definitely be a hard fought and well deserved win for either team, but in the end, Buddy and the Sooners should be exiting the gym as victors.
GAME #2: North Carolina vs. Syracuse
When: April 2 @ 8:49 PM
The ACC has dominated this year’s tournament so far. Now, two conference foes will go head-to-head for a trip to the National Championship. The North Carolina Tar Heels come into this game riding an impressive win streak. They finished as the regular season champions before going on to sweep their conference tournament. Coach Roy Williams once again has his team playing their best basketball at the most important part of the year. After a strong finish in conference play, UNC was rewarded with a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Tar Heels have since become the only No. 1 seeded team to advance to the Final Four. Double-digit blowouts have been the story so far for UNC, winning all four of its tournament games by ten points or more.
W 83-67 vs. #16 Florida Gulf Coast
W 85-66 vs. #9 Providence
W 101-86 vs. #5 Indiana
W 88-74 vs. #6 Notre Dame
Although North Carolina has dominated in tournament play to this point, it is worth noting that Indiana (as a five seed) is the highest ranked team they have faced thus far. This should not be much of a concern to Coach Williams, considering the fact that their next opponent, Syracuse, is a 10 seed. The Tar Heels will make sure that they do not let their opponent’s lousy seed fool them. UNC knows Syracuse can be as good as any team in the nation. With two wins against the Orange in the regular season, North Carolina should know exactly what to expect when the ball tips off on Saturday. UNC needs to continue playing at the high level that they have been playing at all tournament in order to secure victory. Expect them to pound the ball inside to their terrific set of big men, led by their All-American forward Brice Johnson. Johnson should play a big role in the outcome of this game.
Syracuse has had a slightly different road to the Final Four than their ACC counterparts. Many individuals thought Syracuse should not have even been in the tournament after a disappointing season, going 23-13 and finishing ninth in the ACC standings. Prior to the NCAA tournament, the Orange had dropped four of their last five regular season games, followed by a one point loss to Pittsburgh in their conference tournament opener. Based off of their terrible conclusion to the season, fans had every right to question whether this team should be in the tournament or not. Syracuse’s play shocked the country even more once the tournament started. As a result of winning four straight games, Jim Boeheim has his team in the Final Four for the first time since 2013.
W 70-51 vs. #7 Dayton
W 75-50 vs. #15 Middle Tennessee
W 63-60 vs. #11 Gonzaga
W 68-62 vs. #1 Virginia
Syracuse started the tournament with a resounding win against Archie Miller’s well-coached Dayton Flyers. The Orange then rolled past Middle Tennessee, who had just pulled of the biggest upset of the tournament by beating the No. 2 seeded Michigan State Spartans. Syracuse is known for their terrifying 2-3 zone defense that always seems to throw even the best teams off of their game. Their defense is exactly what has led them to this Final Four matchup with UNC. Will the 2-3 zone be able to hold off the towering frontline that North Carolina will present? It was enough to outlast the big men on Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 and then furthermore top seeded Virginia in the Elite Eight. Syracuse would love nothing more than to continue to prove doubters wrong and earn themselves a shot at the National Championship.
Prediction: North Carolina Tar Heels
The Tar Heels are just too good to let this one slip. They have they a better and deeper team than Syracuse does and are playing just as well, if not better basketball than them as well. Fortunately for UNC, they play in the same conference as Syracuse allowing them to not get caught off guard by the defense they play. Additionally, North Carolina did a good job of playing through their big men when they beat the Orange earlier in the season.
W 84-73 @ Syracuse
W 75-70 @ Home
UNC’s four big men combined for 61 points the first meeting and 42 in the second meeting. Having that type of control in the paint is the key for the Tar Heels to come out victorious. Marcus Paige has been nothing short of terrific throughout this tournament as well, so Syracuse will need to stop multiple options on defense while providing an offense explosion on the other end of the floor. As with any game in March, it is definitely possible for the Orange to pull another story-book upset, however it is very unlikely.
National Championship Game: Oklahoma vs. North Carolina
When: April 4
If seeding holds true, we will be left with an elite showdown to conclude the college basketball season. This matchup has a Conference Player of the Year (Buddy Hield), a regular season and conference tournament championship (North Carolina), and two AP First Team All-Americans (Buddy Hield and Brice Johnson). These two teams have combined for a 61-13 record this season. With so much talent and excellent coaching on the sidelines, this should be a perfect ending to an amazing basketball season. The Tar Heels have scored at will inside and have been shooting lights out from 3, but will that be enough to outlast the incredible outside scoring of the Oklahoma Sooners?
Prediction: Oklahoma Sooners
The Tar Heels might have the better overall team, but Oklahoma has the country’s best player in Buddy Hield. Even if both teams play at their highest potential, Buddy Hield has the ability to win this game for his team and when that time comes, he will rise to the challenge. I anticipate Buddy Hield and the rest of his Sooner teammates will be the last players celebrating this year.