NCAA Men’s Final Four Promises Excitement to the Last Buzzer
By Burt Carey
They keep calling it March Madness, but this year’ NCAA Division 1 Men’s Final Four matchups will be held in April.
No matter. The winner takes home the national basketball championship trophy after a weekend that promises to be as exciting for those in the student sections at Houston’s NRG Stadium as it is for those watching on Turner Sports.
It all kicks off Saturday (April 2) at 6 p.m. (ET) with the Sooners of Oklahoma facing off against the Villanova University Wildcats. That semi-final game will be followed 40 minutes later by the second semi-final game, pitting the North Carolina Tar Heels against the Orangemen of Syracuse.
The winners will meet in the national championship game April 4 (to be televised by TBS), with tip-off slated for 9:18 p.m. (ET).
North Carolina (32-6) is the lone remaining No. 1 seed in the Final Four. Villanova (33-5) and Oklahoma (29-7) arrived as No. 2 seeds, while Syracuse (23-13) is looking for a Cinderella ending having entered the 64-team NCAA Tournament seeded 10th in the Midwest Division. Twenty times a No. 1 seed has won the title, compared to only three times a No. 2 seed has won it all. No 10-seed has ever won the NCAA Tournament.
Oklahoma smoked Villanova back in December, 78-55, but the Wildcats defense has improved dramatically since then. They’ve allowed opponents to score an average of just 63.6 points per game, the 15th-best defense in Division 1 basketball. They will need it.
Oklahoma averages 81 points per game, much of which is a credit to guard Buddy Hield who’s responsible for 25.4 of those points. Hield became the Big 12’s second-highest scorer of all time in the first half of Oklahoma’s Elite Eight matchup with Oregon. He scored 37 points in that game. And he’s not the only Sooner who can shoot. As a team, Oklahoma makes 42.8 percent of its shots from beyond the 3-point arc. Point guard Jordan Woodard is averaging 16.8 points per game.
Villanova’s offense is anchored by 6-4 point guard Ryan Arcidiacono who’s shooting a cool 58 percent from 3-point territory during the tournament. Junior forward Kris Jenkins (13.5 points per game) has his back, as does junior guard Josh Hart (15.3 points per game).
Syracuse stunned No. 1 seed Virginia and the nation with its 68-62 Elite Eight win. Even head coach Jim Boeheim was surprised. The Orange will have more work to do to take down the Tar Heels.
North Carolina took both head-to-head matchups with Syracuse this season, and most college basketball fans would be beyond speechless if the Orange were to win. Roy Williams, it seems, has his Tar Heels poised for another championship.
Averaging 15 rebounds and 21 points per game in the tourney, North Carolina forward Brice Johnson poses a significant threat, as one who’s looking to close out his senior year with a championship. He’s recorded a school record 23 double-doubles this season, including one against Notre Dame in their Elite Eight contest.
Orange guard Michael Gbinije almost single-handedly carried Syracuse in two earlier tournament games they should have lost. Gonzaga had them down by nine late in the game, but Gbinije stuck a go-ahead layup that put Syracuse over the top. Then, behind by 16 points to Virginia, Gbinije shined on both ends of the court with a pair of steals, six assists and 11 points to lead he upset. Syracuse counts on him for defense and to set the pace.
Source: Baret News