One thing that is very interesting about this year's field of Final Four teams is that freshmen are not the stars. Villanova and Oklahoma both only use one freshman in their rotation. North Carolina is led by their two seniors, Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige, and Syracuse is led by Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney. It's the complete opposite of last season which featured Kentucky and Duke, who was both led by three or more freshman. It's refreshing to see upperclassman back in the forefront of college basketball, but let's take a look at the final four teams.
#1 North Carolina East Region Champ
Road to the Final Four:
- Round of 64 - Florida Gulf Coast 83-67
- Round of 32 - Providence 85-65
- Sweet 16 - Indiana 101-85
- Elite 8 - Notre Dame 88-74
The Tar Heels are back in the national spotlight. For the first time since 2012 the Tar Heels kept their losing record under 10 and this is their first Final Four trip since 2009, which was their last National Championship.
For Roy Williams, this is familiar territory, coaching in his 8th Final Four, 4th with the Tar Heels. Williams has walked out of the Final Four with a title three times and the one thing that is synonymous with two of his titles in Chapel Hill is he had monster power forward working in the paint. In 2005, he rode the back of Sean May (17 & 11) and in 2009 he had the hardworking Tyler Hansborogh (20 & 8). This year he has another dominate 6'9 forward in Brice Johnson.
Brice Johnson is averaging 21 points and 10 boards during the tournament and has shot over 60% in three games. In the last 20 games he has posted 14 doubles-doubles, three of which coming in the tournament. With Brice in the middle, Carolina is the best offensive team in the Final Four. They shot 62% as a team in the Elite 8 against Notre Dame, while Brice dropped 25 points and 12 boards. The rest of the starting 5 scored in double figures and that has been the case for three of the Tar Heels 4 tournament games.
#2 Villanova Wildcats South Region Champs
Road to the Final Four:
- Round of 64 - UNC-Ashville 86-56
- Round of 32 - Iowa 87-68
- Sweet 16 - Miami 92-69
- Elite 8 - Kansas 64-59
The Wildcats could be considered the best team in the field without a true star on the roster. Jay Wright makes his second trip to the final four but this will be the schools fourth overall.
This was the third straight season Villanova finished with 25+ wins, coming into the tournament as one of the most consistent teams in the country. The main reason for the Wildcats Final Four trip is their defense. The Wildcats comes into the Final Four as one of the most efficient teams on defense. They kept Kansas to their lowest point total all season (59) - keeping Perry Ellis to only 4 points 1-4 from the field - and didn't allow one team to shoot over 50% from the field. UNC-Ashville and Miami both were held under 40% while the Wildcats shot above 50%.
Despite being very strong on defense this team can still score the basketball. DMV product's Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart lead the team in scoring, Hart averaging 17 points per game and Jenkins averaging 13. Hart and Jenkins combine for 29 points per game while Jenkins is 11-24 (45%) from behind the arc.
#2 Oklahoma West Champions
Road to Final Four:
- Round of 64: Cal State-Bakersfield 82-68
- Round of 32: VCU 85-81
- Sweet 16: Texas A&M 77-63
- Elite 8: Oregon 77-63
Oklahoma is fortunate enough to have the best player in the country and probable Wooden Award recipient, Buddy Hield, to lead them to their first Final Four since 2002. This will be head coach Lon Kruger's 2nd Final Four trip, his first being with Florida in 1993-94.
Many will credit Buddy for the Sooner's Final Four trip, which is valid, but it is others that help make it possible. Like any great player, they need a solid supporting cast, and Hield has that. Isaiah Cousins has been a great sidekick for Buddy in the backcourt. Cousins is third on the team in scoring, averaging 13 points per game and shooting 42% from behind the arc.
Jordan Woodard also is major key in the Sooners success, shooting 46% from the three-point land. Woodard scored 22 points in the Sweet 16 against Texas A&M, knocking down 70% of his shots and 5-6 from behind the arc.
Of course, without Buddy Hield, the Sooners are not in this spot. Buddy averages 29 points in the tournament, dropping 30 twice - 36 on VCU and 37 on Oregon. Kobe was in attendance for the Elite 8 matchup against Oregon, which is the reason for his 65% from the field and 8-13 from the three point land. Hield is doing what Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier did for UConn, carrying his team to a title. As of right now, no one can stop the Bahamian, and if that is the case Sooners will be a tough team to defeat.
#10 Syracuse Midwest Champions
Road to the Final Four:
- Round of 64 - Dayton 70-51
- Round of 32 - Mid Tennessee State 75-50
- Sweet 16 - Gonzaga 63-60
- Elite 8 - Virginia 68-62
The Orangemen are not supposed to be here. They were not supposed to be in the tournament and nobody wanted them to be in it. Too bad.
Jim Boehiem will be coaching in his fourth Final Four and this one might be the most special. Due to Syracuse being put on blast by the NCAA, Boehiem was suspended for 9 games during the season. He made his return on January 9th and suffered a loss to North Carolina. They lost 5 of their last 6 games prior to Selection Sunday and was crowned one of the first 4 out on the bubble. So when the committee released their bracket and Cuse was #10 seed, the masses voiced their opinion on how they should not be included in March Madness.
That was then, this is now.
Syracuse has earned their right to play in the Final Four, especially after knocking off highly favorited #1 seed Virginia Cavaliers. Cuse came back from down 16 to defeat the Cavs, outscoring them 47-27 in the second half after only scoring 21 points in the first. Malachai Richardson scored 21 points in the second half which helped the Orangeman knock off the #1 seed. That was the trend for the Orangemen during the Tournament, outscoring their opponents in the second half 166-104. As the lowest seed in the field - lowest since VCU in 2010 - and the major underdog but history shows, that underdog Big East schools can not be counted out.
#1 North Carolina vs #10 Syracuse
The Tar Heels have dominated every team offensively and show no signs of slowing down. With Johnson playing the best basketball of his career, the Tar Heels should walk into the National Championship. The Orangemen have used a full-court press during the tournament mixed with their 2-3 zone that stifled the Cavs and could possibly stifle the Tar Heels.
#2 Villanova vs. #2 Oklahoma
The top defensive team vs the best scorer in college basketball. The Wildcats have the athletes to contain Hield, Josh Hart more than likely will be assigned to Hield. If this game does become an up-n-down shootout, Nova will be able to compete averaging 82 points a game in the tournament, 2nd behind North Carolina, while Oklahoma averages 81. This game could go in two different direction, and for the Sooners, they will want this game to be a shootout.