I told myself I wasn’t going to discuss Carolina here, but they damn near made it impossible not to include them, getting two teams into the Final Four, both North and South. The first was supposed to be here, and the second is being hailed already as an “also ran.” But I said I wasn’t going to talk about them, and here I spent the first two sentences of this post doing nothing but. Sigh.
Anyway, guess who else is in Phoenix this week? That’s right, the team that has arguably been the best in the entire league this year: Gonzaga. When you zig, they Zag. They’ve only lost one game all year, and haven’t really been challenged during this tournament. Of course they also escaped a possible tussle with Arizona in the Elite 8, so there’s that. Oh, and Oregon is in Phoenix too, keeping it West Coast. They’ve gone farther than they should, but that was a legit takeout of Kansas in Kansas City, so I can’t discount them either.
Popular opinion has the Tarheels and the Zags getting to the National Championship on Monday night, and with good reason. But remember when the committee was widely panned for putting North Carolina above Duke as a 1-seed? Well, they should have lost to Kentucky in the Elite 8, and after Oregon’s dismantling of the Jayhawks, why not put the Tarheels in the loss column here?
Enough conjecture, though. Here are my picks for the outcomes of the Final Four contests:
(7)S. Carolina vs. (1)Gonzaga — The second best defense left in this tournament belongs to the Gamecocks, and it’s not even close. They’ve harassed teams left and right, and their defense has led to strong offensive possessions on the other end. As a team they’re playing as cohesively as anyone, and they have the best player of the tournament so far in Thornwell. Unfortunately they’re coming up against the best team in the league this year, by pretty much any metric you want to use. Oh, and the Zags are the top defensive team. So they’re a better version of the Gamecocks, which will make the difference. This slipper doesn’t fit anymore. Pick – (1)GONZAGA.
(3)Oregon vs. (1)N. Carolina — The stars are aligning for this North Carolina unit, but they’ve escaped more than a little bit this tournament, pulling out win after win even though they haven’t played their best ball. And make no mistake about it, they will need their best ball against a solid top-to-bottom Ducks squad that can smell its first National Championship since THE first National Championship (back in 1939). Oregon has played better the longer the tournament has gone on, and they’re coming off that domination of Kansas. No team is hotter right now, and North Carolina needs to come out ready in this one. The problem is that Dorsey and Brooks match up well against the Tarheels, and they’ve got momentum. That will matter. Pick – (3)OREGON.