There’s nothing more that a team can ask for than a chance to win it all. Only four teams still retain that hope for a championship. They will battle it out this weekend on the biggest stage of them all. The NCAA Final Four.
Every team remaining has traveled a path unlike any of the other teams. In one locker room, there is the cinderella story with the seventh-seeded South Carolina Gamecocks. They’ve made a remarkable run which was highlighted by the shocking victory over the second-seeded Duke Blue Devils in the second round. They’ll be facing a juggernaut Gonzaga team which finally made it over the hump with their first final four appearance. It is the 2017 Cinderella Story versus the Cinderella story from the last 15 years.
After those two go at it, Oregon and North Carolina will get their shot to compete in the championship game on Monday. On one side, there’s a North Carolina team that came up seconds short of winning the championship last season. They haven’t forgotten and their hunger to get back has created a chip on their shoulder. Oregon, however, might have just as big as a chip. They’ve been overlooked all tournament, even though they are a three-seed and are coming out of a very strong Pac-12. The Ducks and Tar Heels are in-store for a heavyweight matchup.
South Carolina (7) vs Gonzaga (1)
The road does not get any easier for South Carolina. Their last three games have come against a two, three and four seed in the East region of the bracket. Coming into every one of those games as an underdog, the Gamecocks found a way to grind out victories. They’ve been able to contain teams on the defensive end including holding a high-powered Baylor team to just 50 points in the Sweet 16. Strong guard play played a big part in South Carolina’s success as well. This all starts with Sindarius Thornwell, Gamecocks guard, who has been lighting up the scoreboard since game one of the tournament. He’s scored no less than 24 points in each game and has worked his tail off on the glass with 7.5 rpg. South Carolina can defend as good as any team, but they will only go as far as Thornwell will take them.
Gonzaga will be the best offense that South Carolina has seen in the tournament. Maybe even all season. Each player in their starting lineup is capable of scoring in bunches for the Zags. Led by Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga guard, the Gonzaga offense has averaged 83.2 ppg this season which is good enough for 14th in the country. William-Goss leads the team with 16.7 ppg and scored a crucial 23 points to help Gonzaga advance past Xavier in the previous round. Not only can Gonzaga score but they also rank near the top in points allowed per game with an average of 60.9 ppg. They are a mid-major so their schedule is not exactly a gauntlet. However, winning games by an average of 22.3 ppg is a true sign of dominance. South Carolina took down really good teams to get where they are, but Gonzaga is a different beast.
Oregon (3) vs North Carolina (1)
No team had a more impressive win than Oregon in their last game against Kansas. The Jayhawks looked like they were on a roll going into the Elite Eight. However, Oregon took it to the first-seeded Jayhawks, beating them 74-60 in front of a Kansas crowd with the game being in Kansas City. The Ducks made it here on both the offensive and defensive end of the floor. Tyler Dorsey, Oregon guard, has been the heart and soul of the Oregon offense. He’s exceeded his season average of 14.5 ppg in each tournament game including hitting clutch shots. The team trailed Michigan in the final seconds of their Sweet 16 matchup but Dorsey came up huge with a clutch shot, in an isolation situation, to lift his team into the Elite Eight. Oregon has enough depth to not rely on Dorsey’s scoring, but they’ll need him against this North Carolina team.
North Carolina still has the bad taste of a last-second defeat in last year’s championship game against Vilanova. Every starter for the Tar Heels was a part of last year’s series of unfortunate events. Using the loss as a rallying cry has helped carry this team to this point. Coach Roy Williams is one of the best motivators in the game, so there is no shortage of hunger in this squad. Size and rebounding are the greatest strengths for North Carolina as they finished the year leading the NCAA in rebounding. Both teams have strong inside presences, but if North Carolina continues to dominate the glass, it will be tough for Oregon to pull it off.